Employment

Gender pay gap: How to ask what your coworkers are earning and negotiate a raise

The gender pay gap has increased during the pandemic to 15.5 per cent. Here’s how to find out how your company fares and ask for a raise.

Image: Unsplash / Christina @ wocintechchat.com

Thursday marks the Fawcett Society’s Equal Pay Day – the date when women effectively start to work for nothing because, on average, they are paid less than men.

Despite general downward trends in recent years, the gender pay gap actually increased during the pandemic. It now stands at 15.5 per cent – and at the current rate, won’t close until 2059, according to new research by the Labour Party.

Although the gap is lower than it was in 2019, the pandemic has widened pay disparity as men’s earnings have rebounded more quickly than women’s.

This “she-cession,” explains Duncan Brown, expert in gender pay gap reporting, is because women are the majority of people in low pay and key worker roles such as catering or hospitality. Therefore it is they who have “taken the hardest hit on income and health from the pandemic.”

The gender pay gap is the difference in average pay between the men and women in your workforce.

While the onus should not be on women to fight to close the gender pay gap or to recieve equal pay, it helps to know what you are entitled to. 

We break down your rights when it comes to finding out what your colleagues earn, your company’s gender pay gap, and how to ask for more. 

Should you tell your coworkers your salary and can you ask them for theirs?

It is likely that your boss won’t be too happy if you start asking colleagues what they earn, and even less so if you do it in an organised way like sending round a spreadsheet to record employee earnings, as one Google employee infamously did, collating rates of pay for 1,200 US Google employees.

However it is illegal for your employer to ban these discussions, thanks to the Equality Act of 2010, which states employees have the right to discuss salary if it is for the purposes of collective bargaining, or finding out whether you are being discriminated against for having a protected characteristic.

It’s important to note here the “if”, which means employers cannot discipline anyone for speaking about their own, or asking about others’ pay, so long as it’s part of a group effort or to investigate potential discrimination.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) found in 2020 that one in five workers had been told they couldn’t talk about their pay at work, taking this as a sign that pay secrecy or ‘gagging’ clauses are all too common in employment contracts.

Pay secrecy clauses seek to ban employees from disclosing what they earn to other workers.

“The law says that pay secrecy clauses can’t be enforced if an employee discusses pay in order to find out if they are being less than their colleagues for unlawful reasons – such as being a woman,” Nikki Pound, the TUC’s women’s policy officer told The Big Issue.

So if you’re planning to bring up pay discussions, you’ll be most safe doing so as part of a union. 

How to find your company’s gender pay gap

Employers in the private or voluntary sectors with 250 or more employees must now publish their gender pay gap data every year, meaning you can find out the difference in average pay between the men and women in your company.

This must be published on your company’s own website and through the government gender pay gap reporting website

Employers who fail to publish their gender pay gap statistics before the deadline of April 5 may be investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The commission names and shames the companies it investigates on its website

How to find out what your colleagues might be earning – and what you should be earning

Salary estimator tools can help you to figure out how much you should be earning. Glassdoor have an estimator that uses millions of salaries to estimate what the market is paying for your role, and CharityJob has a similar tool that puts a price tag on your CV. 

Make sure to check self-reported salary databases online. Glassdoor collates pay rates for salaries at thousands of companies so you might be able to see what colleagues are earning at your company or at a competitor. Both pieces of information could be useful when bargaining with your boss. 

How to negotiate a salary when starting a new job

Discussing past salaries when negotiating a new job is “pointless,” according to the Fawcett Society, which found that four in 10 working adults have lied about what they previously earned.

The equality charity argues that as well as being meaningless, these discussions can mean past pay discrimination follows women, people of colour, and people with disabilities throughout their career. It also means new employers replicate pay gaps from other organisations.

The study found that  61 per cent of women who have been asked about salary history say it damaged their confidence to negotiate for better pay, and 58 per cent  of women said it made them feel as though a low past salary was ‘coming back to haunt them’. 

“Asking for salary history is incompatible with a commitment to equal pay,” said Shobaa Haridas, from East London Fawcett, which is why the society is calling on employers to stop asking salary questions. 

So, if you are asked to disclose your past salary, you can decline to answer, or, what’s to stop you replying with the salary you want? 

How to ask for a pay rise

Prejudice against women in the workplace, the unequal division of labour in the home and lack of accommodation for mothers in the workplace all contribute to the gender pay gap, but there’s also the issue that women are less likely to ask for a pay increase than men. 

Women were far less likely to ask their employer for better compensation or benefits during the pandemic, found a study by Moody’s Analytics, suggesting that the pandemic widened inequalities at work. 

Only 15 percent of women said they had asked for a raise from their employer during the pandemic, compared to 20 percent of men.

“We know that simply asking for a pay rise in the right way will not fix decades of inequality or begin to address the systemic and structural barriers surround equal pay, but we also know that women have been socialised to be uncomfortable, hesitant and even apologetic when negotiating salary,” said Fiona Hathorn, CEO of Women on Boards UK, which supports women into boardroom roles. 

It’s important to identify what you think you’re worth, Hathorn suggests, so that you can go to your boss with a number in mind to request. 

Keeping a record or an email folder of all the achievements you have made, examples of positive feedback from clients or peers, and times when you have gone above and beyond, will help to categorically demonstrate that you are worth what you are claiming. 

It’s widely acknowledged that men are judged on potential while women are judged more on past performance, says Hathorn, so while it’s vital to lay out what you have achieved already, don’t forget to lay out what you will be tackling next.

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