I haven’t taken much notice of International Women’s Day since I flirted with radical feminism as a student, ahem, quite a while ago. But my inner Germaine Greer has been springing into life again due to a survey by recruitment consultants Robert Half marking IWD today.
It found men are likely to earn £300,000 more than women over a lifetime, and that’s difficult to dismiss with a dainty shrug. Let’s face it, in most parts of the country, it’s a house. Yes ladies, employers think we are worth a whole three-bedroom-semi less than a bloke. It’s enough to drive a girl to dredge up those Doc Martens and dungarees from the dusty recesses of the wardrobe.
Discrimination has supposedly been outlawed in this country since the Made in Dagenham era, when the 1968 strike of female machinists at the Ford car factory led to the Equal Pay Act of 1970. Yet this week, in one of those ‘you really couldn’t make it up’ stories, it emerged that women working in the department of equalities minister Nicky Morgan are being paid around £3,000 less a year than the men.
How can this be happening? The answer, according to academics Margaret Neale and Thomas Lys, writing in the Harvard Business Review, is probably unconscious discrimination. They argue that much of the gender pay divide these days is down to lower expectations on women’s part and our unwillingness to negotiate over pay, which mean employers often get away with paying us less.
Whatever the reason, so long as the gender pay gap persists, it will ripple out into savings, pensions and investments. If women are paid less, we are not as well-placed to save. Simples.
The figures are still sobering. Scottish Widows, which reports each year on women’s pensions, found in its latest research that nearly a fifth of female employees in permanent jobs are not building any nest egg at all for retirement. Of those who are, the average monthly amount set aside is £105, compared with £177 for their male peers.
Separate research by private bank Duncan Lawrie found that the wealth of male investors outstrips that of female ones by almost 400 per cent. Only 19 per cent of British women have a savings and investment portfolio, worth on average just £2,000, while 29 per cent of UK men have a nest egg, with a typical value of £7,732.
For those of you gallant gentlemen still reading, this isn’t just a wimmin’s issue. If women were paid fairly, it would mean more money for the whole family. If women had better pensions, couples could have a nicer retirement together. Just saying.
What if anything, though, can be done to boost women’s wealth?
An indulgent multi-billionaire is always an option, but they are thin on the ground. Now Jerry’s made an honest man of Rupert there’s one fewer of them up for grabs.
The key for most of us is to earn more, and that means overcoming our feminine coyness over salary haggling. Excruciating thought, I know.
Profs Neale and Lys urge women not to underplay their pay expectations when taking a job. They also suggest that women (who are, they say, more likely than men to be perceived as greedy for trying to negotiate, grrrr) should try to be creative about squeezing more money out of an employer.
For instance, instead of demanding hard cash, what about asking for share options? Or a review in six months’ time based on performance? Or higher company pension contributions?
When it comes to savings, my own experience and that of my middle-aged, middle-class peer group, is that lack of time is as much of a barrier as shortage of cash. We might have some money to save – albeit less than men – but when do we have the time or energy to hunt out the best rates or increase our pension contributions?
Fact is, ladies, we should make it a priority if we don’t want to end up old and poor. Trust me: if Doc Martens and dungarees is not a good look, old and poor is even worse.
Ruth Sunderland is City Features Editor of the Daily Mail