“I’m out of office until 2019.”
The automated email replies from working women were part of a campaign to mark Equal Pay Day in Britain on Saturday and to draw attention to the country’s gender pay gap.
The Fawcett Society, a group that campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights, set Nov. 10 as the date in Britain when women begin working effectively “for free” when compared to men, based on the disparity in pay annually.
Mind the Gap
There are many ways of looking at wage discrimination. But widely used definitions of the gender pay gap use the difference in median or average pay between men and women in full-time jobs in terms of gross salary without overtime.
In Britain, the gap was 13.7 percent this year. Put another way, women earn on average 86.3 percent of what men do for the same work.
In the United States, Equal Pay Day fell on April 10 to mark how far into the year women had to work to match the previous year’s wages of male counterparts.
The European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, observes Equal Pay Day based on the average gap across the bloc. Based on 2016 figures, that difference was 16 percent.
It is illegal in most industrialized nations to pay women less than men for the same job, but men continue to earn significantly higher median salaries. A 2016 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the gender pay gap was 13.9 percent in member nations.
If nothing is done, research in Britain has shown it could take nearly a century to bridge the gap at the current rate of change.
“This Equal Pay Day we are asking you to talk about pay at work,” said Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society. The group has started a fund to provide legal advice for low-paid women.
Fawcett Society also launched a social media campaign encouraging women and men to show their solidarity by sharing photos with equal signs drawn on their hands or paper to call for change. Dozens shared their photos and calls to action.
In France, the minister in charge of gender equality, Marlène Schiappa, sent out a tweet with the hashtag used by campaigners on the day to announce a plan to combat wage inequality in the next three years on France’s Equal Pay Day, Nov. 6.
“The fight for equal pay often pits a lone woman against a very powerful employer,” said Carrie Gracie, who quit her job as China editor of the BBC in January to protest unequal wages and donated backdated pay she received from the organization to the legal fund.
Some Progress and a Shift in Attitudes on Equal Pay
Dominique Meurs, an economist at Paris Nanterre University who specializes in gender inequalities in the workplace, said large corporations have become “very sensitive” to the issue even though the gap in France had not closed significantly since the 1990s.
“It has become an integral part of their corporate social strategy,” she said.
“The inequalities that are easy to eliminate have been eliminated,” Ms. Meurs said. But to resolve the pay gap, companies will have to look beyond that figure at career evolution.
In Britain, the pay gap is the lowest since records began in 1997. The the gap in average pay was 20.7 percent then.
A recent European Commission opinion poll found that attitudes are shifting: Most people in the European Union believe it is unacceptable for women to be paid less than men. But many don’t know that equal pay is guaranteed by law. Equal pay legislation exists in all European Union member state.
Many men and women also assume that they are paid equally, according to Allyson Zimmermann, the executive director of Catalyst Europe, a nonprofit consulting and research organization.
“What it’s highlighting year after year is that progress is incredibly slow, and it’s highlighting the need for change,” Ms. Zimmermann said.
“It opens a much wider discussion of what is happening — it goes even beyond the pay, it goes to inequity and it shows talent not being valued,” she said.
Elian Peltier contributed reporting from Paris.