DWJH34 Hundreds of women join International Women's Day march through the streets of London 08.03.2014
Women campaign for equal pay in London © Theodore Liasi/Alamy

Friday November 10 will mark the day when, in theory, women in the UK start working for free until the end of the year.

The date, which has not moved for the past three years, reflects the mean gender pay gap for full-time workers, which was 14.1 per cent in April 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics. The figure was the same in 2016 and 2015.

The Fawcett Society, which pioneered the concept of “equal pay day” to draw attention to the gender pay gap, said that if the gap continued to close at the rate it has during the past five years, it would not reach zero until 2117.

The group said the gap was wider than the average for women working full time in their 50s, at 18.6 per cent, but it has also grown among women in their 20s, from 1.1 per cent in 2011 to 5.5 per cent this year.

“The pay gap is widest for older women as it grows over our working lives, but we are now seeing a widening of the pay gap for younger women too, which suggests we are going backwards and that is extremely worrying,” said Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society chief executive.

“The further up most organisations you go, the fewer women you find, to the point where, at the top of the FTSE 100, there are still barely any female CEOs,” said Lady Barbara Judge, chairman of the Institute of Directors.

The Women on Boards review, which reported on Thursday, found that the number of women on the executive committees of the FTSE 100 had stagnated during the past 12 months.

As well as disparities by age, the gender pay gap differs widely by region. It is highest in London, at 20.7 per cent, followed by the South East region at 16.3 per cent. It is lowest in Wales, at 8.3 per cent, and the North East, at 10.2 per cent. Although the gap has fallen by more than three percentage points in London and the South-East since 2011, it has risen by 1.5 percentage points in the North East.

Women working in the private sector face the highest pay gap, at 17.1 per cent — although this has fallen by 4.3 percentage points since 2011. The public sector gap has stayed flat at just above 14 per cent.

Fawcett Society research published earlier this year found that the mean gender pay gap for part-time and full-time Pakistani and Bangladeshi women was 26 per cent and for black African women it was 24 per cent.

While the mean pay gap for full-time employees has remained static, the median gap decreased to 9.1 per cent in 2017 from 9.4 per cent the previous year, according to ONS data. The gap for all employees rose marginally in 2017, from 18.2 per cent to 18.4 per cent.

Desi Kimmins, associate client partner at consultants Korn Ferry, said that to suggest women were now working for free for the rest of the year was “simply not true”, and failed to address the cause of the problem.

“When we compare the pay between women and men doing the same job in the same company, the pay gap falls to 1.7 per cent in favour of men, meaning pay equality is closer than we are led to believe,” she said.

Ms Kimmins said there was a chronic absence of internal female promotion, which was contributing to the lack of women in senior positions.

The Fawcett Society has suggested that employers sign a pledge on equal pay committing themselves to publishing the gender pay gap with an action plan to tackle it, supporting fathers to take time off to care for their children, and supporting women to reach leadership positions.

Under new legislation, all companies with 250 employees or more must report their gender pay gap by the end of March 2018. So far, only 221 of the estimated 9,000 eligible companies have reported. Very few have published accompanying action plans.

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