The Real Reasons For The ‘Gender Pay Gap’ in The UK May Surprise You

What is the pay gap between men and women here in the UK?

For years women have fought to close the gender pay gap, over 40 years ago that the Equal Pay Act came into force, yet here we are still debating whether or not women deserve to be paid the same as men for their work.

In the UK it has been reported that between 2012 and 2013 that gap had actually widened from 14.8 percent in 2012 to 15.7 percent for full-time workers. Roughly translated means women earn 84p for every £1 a man makes even though there are more women in work now than ever, an estimated 14 million.

If you include part and full-time work the situation appears to worsen. The pay gap rises from 18.6 percent 2012 to 19.1 percent 2013. Although a close look shows women in part-time roles are earning more than their male counterpart. The main problem is that part-time roles are low skilled and low paid work. 

Now that doesn’t seem very fair, but many businesses would argue that actually, that is very reasonable seeing as women cost businesses more than men. 

What is the view of the employer and the arguments against an equal pay rate?

Sickness Leave Figures

WorkingHours1The statistics are clear, it shows that women do take more time off of work than men. A survey of 120.000 people off sick for a month or more, not including maternity, found that 60%, a staggering 72.000 were women and the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed those numbers.

Last year businesses reported losing a staggering 131 million days to people off sick, costing the national economy an eye-watering £100 billion a year. That figure does include men too but the fact is that the majority were women, and figures did not include maternity leave. 

The main reasons for sick leave were musculoskeletal conditions like back and neck pain, minor illnesses for example colds and flu, lastly stress, depression and anxiety.

Maternity leave

When we add in the cost of maternity on business we find that employers are genuinely put off from hiring women.

In a survey of 500 managers by Slater and Gordon solicitors, 40% of managers were too afraid to hire women that were at childbearing age in their 20’s and 30’s due to the high cost of maternity leave to the business.

Our public services are disproportionally affected by women taking time off of work as they hire more women than the private sector.

They were wary of hiring women that had children because they felt that to appoint them to positions of power was too risky. Even though the government pays for the first two weeks of maternity it is the employer who has to pay the remainder, up to 90 percent of your annual salary.

The amount of time you can currently take off is 14 weeks, however, there are plans to increase that to 20 weeks which if they go through with could end up costing UK businesses an extra £2.5 billion.

On top of the costs of paid maternity leave, it can cost a business up to £1000 to interview and hire someone to fill that position. More if it is a specialist position that may need some training, but also having to pay that persons salary while they are covering.  

Our public services are disproportionally affected by women taking time off of work as they hire more women than the private sector.


numberofworkingdayslostReports show that women are 42 percent more likely to take a day off of work then men do, up to 5 days a year. It was even noted that often women take time off following a 28-day cycle, that’s right people a day off for the dreaded period although in countries like Japan these days off are enshrined into their laws. 

Cost of training

Another aspect of cost to a business comes from training, especially for jobs like the Armed Forces, Police, Fire services and NHS. For example, it costs approximately £100.000 to train a nurse over 3 years.

Many businesses are already leading the way and coming up with innovative ideas to support women and parents in the workplace.


Apple and Facebook have recently offered to pay for their female members to freeze their eggs up to $20.000 so that they can work longer and develop their careers without having to break for parenthood. 

Websites like regularly produce a 100 Best Companies list for Working Mothers. They award companies that go above and beyond for parents. Granted it seems American companies are leading the way.

Providing discounted childcare, emergency childcare, and sick childcare. Paid maternity and paternity leave, also paid leave for adoptive parents too alongside flexible hours. Better paid part-time positions, telecommuting and making sure that there are high numbers of women that work for them. 

Companies like Cisco, Dell, American Express, and AOL just to name a few are all on that list.

So why do we need an equal pay law when it is clear companies are already doing something to help?

There are UK firms also signing this charter of practices like British Gas, Royal Mail, John Lewis, EE, Barclay, Allianz and even the BBC and have already been named Top employers for women so why not just wait.

Lifestyle choices

One may even argue that businesses shouldn’t have to accommodate family life as these are all lifestyle choices. If men can have children, be carers, still get to work and not take extra time off then why should businesses take on the extra costs for women? 

Another possibility to consider, maybe women could choose more suitable careers that will accommodate family life. 

Perhaps becoming self-employed rather than trying to juggle high flying careers with family life. Family life is important and needs a lot of attention while careers also need and deserve ones full attention, rather than trying to do both.

Maybe part-time and flexible work is the answer until children are of a certain age.

What about women?

Likewise, there are many reasons as to why women do deserve the right to equal pay. For example, we measure the pay rate according to the job one does not according to a person’s absenteeism. Same job same pay, simple.

When we look not at the black and white statistics but the grey areas in between we find that women are often unpaid carers to children, disabled and older members of a family. 

Often meaning that when they are taking a sick day it is because they are caring for someone else, not because they are slackers, can’t hack the job at hand, or even sick, they just have to tell their employer something.

In fact unpaid carers do save the government £119 billion every year, however, when we look closely at those statistics even though women make up the majority of unpaid carers 57.7 percent, we find that 42.3 percent are MEN.

maleandfemaleThese women, often graduates have to opt for low paid part-time work because they need the flexibility to juggle other aspects of their lives. Just under a quarter of all women that work are working part-time.

Chicken and egg situation

Women everywhere –presumably- would argue that actually if you closed the wage gap they would not take so much time off.  

They could contribute to employment and the economy by hiring someone to help with caring for their family members or children.

Also able to work full time thus improving their economic situation and that of their families. Have more of a disposable income which would help our national economy and the profits of individual companies. But would they?

Countries that have fairly high wages like 


Switzerland, France, Norway and even the USA, also have the highest costs of living. 

So even if we raised wages and closed that gap we may actually still be as bad off as we are today or worse off because there are no caps on things like renting where reports show that in the last year alone has risen by 11.2%.

Childcare and nursery fees are also the highest in Europe so there is absolutely no evidence to show that we would be better off, but much evidence to suggest that in fact, the cost of living would rise.

Some companies have genuinely made remarkable moves to accommodate family life but it does not actually benefit the company more. 

Women have less reason to take time off of work, therefore, will be more productive at work. Reports show that the more women within a company at all levels including management profits a company greatly.  

Attributes associated with women and their caring roles; not competitive in a winner takes all manner, the nurturing, financial budgeting and teamwork skills are all positive attributes with leadership roles.  

Consider the women who don’t have children or families, don’t they deserve to earn the same as men? After all, there are no real perks to equal the gap for them.  

As for those that do go on to have children, they will raise the next generation of economic contributors’ arguably a necessity not a lifestyle choice.  

So can we really afford to not pay women the same as men when we look at costs like childcare being the second highest cost to families’ next to a mortgage or rent? The UK has one of the highest amount of single parents in the EU. Two-thirds of them are working parents who need to be able to afford good childcare.

There are genuinely great arguments for equal pay for women and raising the pay rate, but equally, there are also some undisputable facts.  

Unpaid Carers

Even though there are more unpaid female carers there are almost just as many male unpaid carers too. 

116.801 men which are about 1.0 percent of male carers also work full time and provide up to 50 hours of unpaid care compared to the 81,812 women. 

There are also 400.000 men heading lone parent families, and they don’t find it easy either. Yet men in general regardless of the circumstance are costing their employers less money. 

So does closing the wage gap really mean that women would be better off, no not really.

At the moment we have free markets and no controls on the services that charge so much, like childcare and renting. If we raise wages actually we would more likely end up paying more for those things unless the government introduces caps on renting, childcare, nurseries.

We must stem the buy to let culture and private landlords that charge unrealistic rental charge and introduce the idea of low-cost housing and childcare on a national scale.  

Lastly, encourage renting rather than home ownership especially as personal mortgage debt was staggering £1.293 trillion at the end of August 2014. Then maybe we could consider raising wages all around, and closing that gap because then the money will actually make a difference.  Germany does this well.

So as much as it pains me to say this, women do in fact cost employers’ more regardless of the reasons. Therefore I can understand fully the arguments made by employers against the closing the equal pay gap.

Although it goes against all my own beliefs regarding fairness and equality, how can we as women demand that our wages are equal when the costs associated with employing us show some quite stark differences for men and women?

Men clearly work more than women and if someone works longer than you regardless of gender then they deserve to be paid more.  

There are always the exceptions to the rule out there. Many women have never missed a day even with children. Some have made their careers their children, for which I genuinely hope that they have been recognised and paid equally as their male counterparts. Unfortunately, I must concede that isn’t the majority yet.   

So when the government makes the relevant changes needed to support working families and working people by tackling the most costly aspects of all our lives also making it cheaper for businesses to hire women. Also when women are able to find a better way to balance home and work. Then let us revisit the debate, but until that time I would have to say I feel that to be fair to businesses and men the current wage level is fair.

Data: The Office For National Statistics (ONS)

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