We’re told repeatedly about the UK’s endemic pay gap between the sexes – a depressing gulf that divides the remuneration of our men and womenfolk and is threatening to widen to ever-expanding Grand Canyon-like proportions with every passing year.
In fact, this salary deficit has become so accepted that we now expect to hear about it annually, like some almost comfortingly familiar festive instalment that’s aired alongside the likes of the Queen’s Speech and repeats of Only Fools and Horses.
Every 12 months, it gets wheeled out to a chorus of media hand-wringing, then kicked around ad nauseum by opportunistic political footballers, before being re-appropriated by the same tired equality campaigns that only seem to raise their head once a year at exactly the same time.
So it proved again when the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHMRC) recently and predictably insisted that female graduates are too often earning £8,000 less than their male counterparts, even if they have studied the same subject.
The commission concluded that female graduates start on salaries between £15,000 and just under £24,000, while their male counterparts are more likely to be paid more than £24,000.
According to this purported research, the biggest gap was among lawyers, with women generally taking home some £20,000 – around £8,000 less than men.
I’m sorry, but I beg to differ; such claims simply do not correlate with any experience I’ve had in my entire recruitment career spanning almost 20 years.
It really is news to me. I have never once had a candidate coming to me and saying, ‘I want to leave because my male colleague is earning more than me for doing the same job.’ I have yet to meet a disgruntled female who’s had enough of men smirking behind her back over her lower salary while laughing all the way to the bank themselves.
Neither have I been aware of any equal claim payout that’s resulted from such a situation in the legal profession in Scotland. Even without direct experience, you would think that I might have heard of an instance arising – but I haven’t.
Furthermore, my company specialise in supporting the legal profession and deal on a daily basis with paralegals and qualified solicitors at every stage of post-qualifying experience, so when I am told that the biggest gap lies between lawyers, I am firm in my belief that it is quite simply nonsense.
Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to stop this stark salary inequality; David Cameron has done likewise, presumably while secretly gloating at the salary difference between them. In fact, she is entitled to take home more than him – £2,000 more to be exact – making her the UK’s highest earning politician, though she’s vowed that she won’t claim all of it.
There is no ‘gap’; there is no ‘great divide’ – just women working on a perfectly equal footing and, in many instances, performing at a level way above their male peers.
Where do so-called researchers get these figures from? I have my doubts. It’s certainly no coincidence that their findings are often headline-grabbing and startling – particularly so for those whose experiences they claim to reflect.
So many variables – both tangible, and intangible – combine to determine what remuneration someone is willing to work for and conversely, what an employer is willing to pay. Flexiblity can play a part as some seek out a better work-life balance. Likewise, job satisfaction can be key for many who are passionate about what they do and therefore place that sense of self-worth before salary. Some may simply be keen to have a shorter commute to a workplace which pays less than a job that’s further away. However, to throw gender in there as one of those variables is absurd. It’s neither here nor there.
It seems to me that only the public sector got into difficulty with gender-influenced pay grades.
My advice is to disregard the hackneyed, dubiously sourced salary surveys. Ignore what your friends claim to be earning. Divides exist only when people want to make them in their own heads.
Employers should focus upon creating a culture which simply nurtures respect and opportunity. Employees in turn should focus on seeking the best ‘opportunity’.
The definition of a good opportunity will be very unique to a person and they should never be swayed from it – regardless of what any so-called research may claim.
It should also be kept firmly in mind that paying high salaries does not guarantee businesses that they will have a fully engaged workforce, or that high earning employees will be high performers. There is so much more to your dream job than a good wage, and indeed, to life.
The trouble with salary surveys is they tend to make assumptions, and often the wrong ones.
The pay gap is a myth, pure and simple – and the sooner we realise it, the sooner we can get on with nurturing thriving workplaces driven by talented, hard-working individuals, regardless of gender.
Sarah McParland is the group managing director of Lusona recruitment consultancy.