Almost two centuries have passed since the struggle for equal pay started but the immediate future still doesn’t look too bright. Women will take almost another century to achieve equal pay, according to research by the CMI while the EHRC has estimated that 5,400 women are missing from top jobs in Britain. And to top that – the situation has actually been worsening over the last few years. So what can be done – take your pick from flirting and arm wrestling.

(c) Flickr user Chris Olson

In 1832, women who worked in Robert Owen’s ‘labour exchange’ in Grays Inn in London voiced, for the very first time, the demand for equal pay. Coupled with the women’s suffrage movement, the demand went from strength to strength and the first equal pay resolution was moved at the Trades Union Congress by Clementina Black in 1888.

Fast forward to almost two centuries later to 2011 – the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has calculated that it will take another 98 years for women to achieve equal pay while the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has estimated that almost 5,400 women are missing from top positions in Britain. Both the researches, published only recently, paint a bleak picture of gender equality in the UK.

Women seem to be doing well until their mid-twenties, levelling with and even slightly rising above men in terms of pay. Female junior executives on an avaerage earn £21,969 per year while their male counterparts average £21,367 per year. But an overall average shows that female executives’ salaries are more than £10,000 less than male executives’ salaries.

This slump in women’s salaries seems to start setting in in their late 20s. Women and men who start out their career together end up being on different rungs of the ladder as their work lives progress, both in terms of pay and positions of influence. With almost 5,400 women missing from top positions in Britain, there is an obvious concern around the diversity of representation in various job sectors.

Here is a snapshot of the data in the Sex and Power 2011 report published by the EHRC –

In politics women represent:

  • 22.2 per cent of MPs (up from 19.3 per cent in 2008)
  • 17.4 per cent of Cabinet members (down from 26.1 per cent in 2008)
  • 21.9 per cent of members of the House of Lords (up from 19.7 per cent in 2008)
  • 13.2 per cent of Local authority council leaders (down from 14.3 per cent in 2008)

In business women represent:

  • 12.5 per cent of directors of FTSE 100 companies (up from 11 per cent in 2008)
  • 7.8 per cent of directors in FTSE 250 companies (up from 7.2 per cent in 2008)

In media and culture, women represent:

  • 9.5 per cent of national newspaper editors (down from 13.6 per cent in 2008)
  • 6.7 per cent of chief executives of media companies in the FTSE 350 and the director general of the BBC (down from 10.5 per cent in 2008)
  • 26.1 per cent of directors of major museums and art galleries (up from 17.4 per cent in 2008)

In the public and voluntary sector, women represent:

  • 12.9 per cent of senior members of the judiciary (up from 9.6 per cent in 2008)
  • 22.8 per cent of local authority chief executives (up from 19.5 per cent in 2008)
  • 35.5 per cent of head teachers of secondary schools (down from 36.3 per cent in 2008)
  • 14.3 per cent of university vice chancellors (down from 14.4 per cent in 2008)

So, why do women start disappearing from boardrooms and into low paid positions after their mid-20s? The EHRC report calls this the ‘marzipan layer’ where women get trapped and suggests that outdated working patterns, inflexible organisations and unequal division of domestic responsibilities are to blame.

Their research revealed that nearly half of female managing directors of London’s top investment banks were childless. Men who care or want to care for their children also face a similar situation – it’s mostly a battle between scoring brownie points by working long hours and spending time with family and children. Part-time work, which is heavily women occupied, also remains undervalued.

The situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better. The pay gap between men and women has risen from £10,031 to £10,546. And as the statistics cited above show, in some areas (including politics and media), there has actually been a decline in women’s represenation in the last three years.

The situation has been worsening in spite of a clear business case for improving diversity in the workforce. According to estimates by the Women and Work Commission, unlocking women’s talent in the workplace could be worth more than £15 billion.

The question arises – how do we close the gender pay gap and ensure that women are represented in influential positions? We have flirting and arm wrestling on offer – take your pick.