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How to Address Unequal Pay at Work

It’s hard to believe that in 2020, the gender pay gap still exists. After all, women in the workplace have come so far in so many ways.

And yet, despite some steady narrowing over the last twenty years, the gender pay gap in Britain is still one of the widest in Europe. Much of this disparity may be due to women not getting equal access to high paying positions, but it can also still be an issue of equal pay. The Equality Act 2010 gives men and women a legal right to receive equal pay for equal work for the same employer, so if you suspect you’re being paid less than your male colleagues for doing ‘like work’ of an equivalent value, you may have a claim. But what can you do to put it right?​

In 2018, the Women’s Chapter in partnership with The Telegraph held a special ‘Know Your Worth’ event, which included a panel discussion with Emma Sinclair MBE, Ann Francke, and Hannah Ford of Stevens & Bolton, a lawyer specialising in equality and diversity issues. Hannah shared her valuable insights on equal pay with The Telegraph, including some of these top tips for navigating pay gap negotiations.


While asking your colleagues about their salaries may be tricky (and not very British!), more transparent conversations might be one of the simplest ways to address the pay gap. In fact, a recent YouGov survey indicated that 56% of workers support making salary information available. Many employers include confidentiality around remuneration in contractual pay secrecy clauses, to deter employees from being distracted by salary discussions. However, these clauses can be difficult to enforce, and are voided in circumstances where someone suspects that a disparity in pay exists on the grounds of their gender. If a conversation with colleagues is a non-starter, there are other ways to research your company salaries. For example, by looking at job ads or talking to recruiters to gain insights about typical rates for similar jobs in your industry. You can also ask for information directly from your employer via your manager or Human Resources department. Employers are not legally obligated to disclose what a colleague is paid in response to a spurious demand from an employee, but they may be open to a dialogue about your salary range and how you are positioned relative to others in the same role. If you believe that a pay disparity is linked to a ‘protected characteristic’ (which includes sex, age, or race), you are entitled to submit written questions to your employer or use their grievance procedure to probe further.


It may sound obvious, but simply asking for a raise should always be your first recourse. Don’t be afraid to ask! Before the meeting, list your achievements and what you have done to meet your objectives, so that you know your worth. Write down key points to keep you focused, and summon all your confidence over the days leading up to the meeting, so that you are able to assert yourself effectively.

However, you should also consider timing and whether now is the right time to ask for a pay re-negotiation. Your negotiating strength will peak and trough throughout the year and some moments are definitely better than others.

Most of us have an annual pay review date built into our contracts (usually to tally with the accounting year-end or commencement of employment) but this is not the only time when you can ask for a raise. If you feel you are being underpaid, find a time when you can have a candid discussion without distractions. Even if your employer claims that their hands are tied at that moment, having the discussion can serve as a useful ‘place marker’ to go back to in the next pay review window.


If your request for a raise is turned down, ask for feedback. Understanding your employer’s reasoning may help you to determine whether the pay disparity is based on gender or something else. Outside of performance, there can be many other reasons why employees in similar roles are paid differently, which might include their individual experience or skill set, market forces present at the time of employment, historical business issues (such as a merger), or even individual bargaining strength or skill. Employers will have a defence if they can prove that the difference in pay between yourself and your colleagues is due to a ‘genuine material factor’ which is non-discriminatory, so it is a good idea to establish whether they will be able to make such a defence.


When is it time to call in the cavalry? It’s important to strike a balance between seeming heavy-handed or overly aggressive, and still ensuring your rights aren’t being violated. Your objective is to preserve the employment relationship (but on better financial terms), and many worry that threatening legal action can alienate your employer. As such, your first steps should be through your company grievance process. However, it may also serve you well to seek professional advice at this stage, to help you develop a strategy.

If you are not able to resolve the issue internally and you suspect you are being paid less unlawfully (i.e. on the grounds of your gender), then it may be time to make an Equal Pay claim.

Most importantly, remember that it is your right to be paid fairly for your contribution in the workplace. Raising the issue of equal pay can be scary, and some people worry that ‘making a fuss’ will mean they are later sidelined, overlooked or dismissed. But not raising it, and accepting less than your worth, only allows the gender pay gap to continue. And in 2019, we all deserve better than that.


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