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Friday, 4 October, 2002, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Equal Pay: You asked the experts

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    Women are still earning considerably less than men, 30 years after the Equal Pay Act was introduced in the UK.

    In the 1960s, women were earning less than 60 pence for every 1 earned by men. Today, they are still paid only 71p for every 1.

    This week Louise Barton, once a leading City analyst, lost a sex discrimination case where she complained that a male colleague was paid double what she got.

    The Equal Opportunities Commission recently launched yet another campaign to make people more aware of sex discrimination, and what to do if it happens to you.

    Why are women still earning less than men? Are women banging their heads against a glass ceiling?

    Our guests were:

  • Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission
  • Dame Judith Mayhew, head of the Corporation of London and the City's de facto chief executive
  • Louise Barton, the analyst who lost her sex discrimination case.


    The BBC's Jenny Scott hosted the forum.

    Hello and welcome to this BBC News interactive forum - I'm Jenny Scott.

    Women are still earning 18% less than men, based on an average hourly wage and this is 30 years after the Equal Pay Act.

    At the same time women are failing to climb the ladder to senior management. Research from Cranfield University found that 93% of the UK's FTSE 100 firms have no women at director level.

    Now we've been flooded with e-mails, clearly some of you out there - men and women - are very concerned about these issues.

    I think the long-hours culture in Britain, which is worst than the rest of Europe, is a big issue, not just for women but for men too

    Julie Mellor
    And here to answer your questions are Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Dane Judith Mayhew, head of the Corporation of London, and Louise Barton, the City analyst who lost her sex discrimination case this week.

    Julie Mellor has chaired the Equal Opportunities Commission since 1999 and has campaigned steadfastly to get equal pay back on both the business and the political agendas.

    Dame Judith is a solicitor and the closest the City has to a chief executive. She looks after policy and resources at the Corporation of London and is a special advisor to Clifford Chance.

    And finally Louise Barton is a stock market analyst who brought a sex discrimination case against her employer - Investec Henderson Crosthwaite. She alleged that a male colleague was paid double her own salary. She has since lost the case but plans to appeal.

    Now let's go straight in with the first question which is from Gillian in the UK - this is for Louise Barton.

    She says: "I'm interested to know what Investec's excuse was for paying Ms Barton less than the equivalent man. If she was selling as much as the next person most city firms would pay them the same bonus surely?"

    And Gillian adds: "P.S. I removed my funds from Investec bank the day I heard about it." Louise?

    Louise Barton:
    Well, the reasons were many. I mean basically the reasons were to do with discretionary factors which were actually terribly hard to quantify and this was the whole issue.

    Essentially I believe that I produced a certain amount of revenue and I should have been awarded accordingly.

    And in my view Investec fabricated my views, discretionary factors, that meant that I was not supposed to earn as much as my colleagues - they are the principle reasons.

    In other words very difficult to prove?

    Louise Barton:
    Very, very difficult, I mean they were citing discretionary factors that are part of this very, very opaque climate which makes it extremely difficult for people to actually fight back.

    Louse Barton, former City analyst
    Barton: "Difficult for people to fight back"
    Well, Jane from London, who says she's using a false name, also comments on this issue, she says: "Where I work in the banking industry sexism is a part of life and everyone knows that women are paid less. The problem is that if you complain you'll never work in the industry again. Do you really believe that progress can be made?"

    Louise Barton:
    Oh yes I do, I believe very much so. I think if you look at the American situation, American banks are further down the road in their treatment of women - if the women in the American banks produce the goods, in terms of revenues, they are paid accordingly.

    And eventually it will catch up. Normally Britain, I think, is probably 10 years behind the US but history tells you that it will catch up.

    More and more women will just become exasperated and take similar action. I mean I think this case has actually set the cause back but they'll be other women out there who will fight a cause as well.

    And Julie Mellor you're chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission - Barbara from Milton Keynes asks: "What is the criteria used to decide if there has been sex discrimination or not and why are some women successful in getting a claim and others aren't?"

    Julie Mellor:
    On equal pay specifically?

    Yes, I think that's what she's talking about.

    Julie Mellor:
    I mean I think equal pay is such a complex issue you can't give a general answer but if someone wants advice then I would urge them to ring our helpline which is 0845 6015901, to get advice on what to do in their personal circumstances.

    I think it is very important that females who have managed to rise to the top act as role models and mentors to younger women in organisations

    Judith Mayhew
    Corporation of London
    We've actually just launched an advertising campaign to make sure that employees are more aware of their rights in the workplace, so that hopefully they can resolve things in the workplace with their employer, but if that doesn't work they then know their rights and know what they can do at tribunal.

    And our helpline is part of that Carry On campaign, we're saying to women don't carry on regardless if you think you're not being paid equally.

    And Sally Hopper from Chingford asks you Julie a similar question: "Do you agree that we will never have more women in senior management roles until we shift radically as a nation from our long-hours culture?"

    Julie Mellor:
    I think the long-hours culture in Britain, which is worst than the rest of Europe, is a big issue, not just for women but for men too.

    Actually fathers in Britain work longer hours than men who aren't fathers and I think a decent work/life balance is in the interests of both employees and employers because they're not going to have motivated productive employees if they're not able to balance their responsibilities at home and their responsibilities at work - and they're not going to be able to recruit and retain the people with the skills that they need.

    And back on this case of trying to prove that there has been sex discrimination, Katie from London asks: "Is there any obligation on companies to provide information on how much their male or female staff earn?" That's another question for you Julie Mellor.

    Julie Mellor:
    An obligation to provide information? I think what the EOC is arguing is that every employer should do a pay review, that they should have a transparent payment system so that their employees can feel assured that there is equal pay in their organisation.

    So we have provided a toolkit for employers so that they can do exactly that. If an individual decides to ask for information and they feel that they need to go to a tribunal because they are not able to resolve it in the workplace - actually there are new regulations coming in that will mean an individual can get access to information more quickly through something called an equal pay questionnaire - that's for the future.

    At the moment again if someone wants advice I would recommend they ring our helpline.

    Someone from Cumbria, who hasn't given their name, picks up on that and says that their employer has said that they can't talk about how much they earn to each other. Is that legal?

    Julie Mellor:
    Well we certainly have a culture in Britain of not talking about how much we earn and as I said I think transparency is what's important for everyone, never mind the legality, it's actually about making sure people are paid fairly in order to be able to recruit and retain the people you need.

    So I think in terms of the individuals then rather than worry about whether it's legal they should be asking their employer if they've done a pay review and if they're concerned call helpline again.

    And our first question now from a man for Judith Mayhew. Dr Graham Kneebone from Cambridge asks: "With discrimination of any sort so widespread why is there so little government help with legal fees, especially as in the majority of cases the compensation only pays the solicitor's fees?"

    Dame Judith Mayhew, head of Corporation of London
    Mayhew: Tribunals can be "destructive"
    Judith Mayhew:
    Well, I think there's a whole issue about tribunals and how tribunals operate and what we have tried to do in the past is to make sure that they're not confrontational court-type structures.

    Now whether that works or not is something that needs to be looked at. But one of the great problems about making people like Louise go to tribunal is that you get involved in this huge lengthy process which means the employee and the employer is always looking backwards and I think that's very destructive on people's lives and we need to look at more conciliation and less confrontational ways of sorting these issues because the legal process is not helpful.

    Julie Mellor:
    Can I just add to that from the Equal Opportunities Commission's perspective because I would agree completely and that's why when individuals come to us for advice, actually 80% of those who come to us for advice settle their case before it gets to a tribunal because that's what everyone wants.

    They want to sort it out in the workplace and that's why our Carry On campaign is about both employees and employers being aware of their rights and responsibilities so they can sort it out in the workplace.

    And Emily Sharp from London asks Julie Mellor about some of the legal issues: "Why doesn't the government legislate to ensure that all companies have to pay men and women equally by law?

    "Isn't it obvious that companies won't do this purely out of goodwill?"

    And equally Jo Anne Brown from Slough says: "The law that was introduced 30 years ago clearly isn't working - will mandatory salary checks be introduced? Isn't that the only way to ensure equal pay for equal work?"

    Julie Mellor:
    As the person said actually there is legislation saying: 'Thou shall not discriminate in terms of the pay you provide on the basis of someone's sex'. That is the Equal Pay Act from 30 years ago. It isn't completely effective, hopefully this new equal pay questionnaire will help women get the information they need to try and sort things out with their employer. The most important thing is that employers do pay reviews so they've got hard data on whether they have a problem in their workforce and can do something about it.

    I think both men and women have to fight their cause and there are issues on both sides

    Louise Barton
    Former City analyst
    At the moment they are urged to do it voluntarily and we have produced the toolkit that they can use to do it. But I think the jury's out on whether it will work.

    And we've actually said that we would expect half of all large employers to have done a pay review by the end of next year if the voluntary approach is working.

    If they haven't, at that stage, then we and others will be urging the government to require employers to do pay reviews.

    And a question for Judith Mayhew, Kalpana Penfold from London asks: "What impact does having more women in positions of authority have on the pay gap?" We had this research which shows that there are hardly any women at director level, would it help to have female mentors?

    Judith Mayhew:
    I think it is very important that females who have managed to rise to the top, and who have achieved equal pay, act as role models and mentors to younger women in organisations.

    But picking up what Julie said before - this is not just a gender issue. I mean the long-hours culture that we have in Britain affects men as much as it affects women and often it's between people who have families and people who don't have families where the real pressures begin to hurt.

    But I think it is very important that we see this as something that the women at the top must do as role models for other women, but recognise it's not just a male/female issue.

    There are quite a few questions actually about that family issue. Debbie Steer from Manchester and Neil D from the Netherlands both ask: "Don't you think that companies have a right to invest less in people who are likely to leave to have children?" That's a question either for you Judith or Julie.

    Judith Mayhew:
    Well I would say absolutely not, I think it's very important for society as a whole that we have a balanced life/work balance and it's vitally important that parents are able to spend time with their children - both men and women - because after all if we don't, we're creating social problems for the future.

    And at a time when we're talking about corporate social responsibility and the way in which firms operate in the broader community, it's very important that family life is seen as a vital part of a company's life - because after all happy employees who have a good work balance are better employees.

    Julie Mellor:
    If I could go to that from the Equal Opportunity Commission's perspective - actually if employers did that they would be missing out on the skills available in a huge proportion of the labour market and would not be profitable companies.

    Julie Mellor, head of Equal Opportunities Commission
    Mellor: the EOC is for men and women
    And another couple of questions on the actual type of jobs that women tend to take. Chevy from Leicester asks: "Don't you think that the major reason that women's pay is unequal is because more women apply for lower-paid positions, men simply don't apply for the jobs that pay less in the same sort of numbers that women do?"

    And Alistair from Belfast also says: "Isn't it the case that at university women generally do courses with less earnings potential - you don't find many in engineering, IT, mathematics?"

    You don't find as many women in there as men so isn't this is a problem we should be addressing earlier on, it's not surprising they earn less - Julie Mellor?

    Julie Mellor:
    I think it's true that young people need information about jobs and pay levels early on in their lives so that they can look at the kind of jobs they're going for.

    However, women don't choose to be low paid - employers determine pay levels - and actually one of the biggest problems is that we don't have enough childcare in Britain, so where women want to work they're forced to work - some people want to work part-time but they're also forced to because there isn't childcare available and they end up being penalised for that flexibility.

    If you look at any of the lowest paid jobs in Britain - cleaners, caterers, home care workers, shop assistants - they're mainly done by women and I think there is an issue for Britain about valuing the work that women do.

    And in fact Tony Blair said in his speech to Labour conference this week exactly that - that we need to value the huge contribution that women are making in those roles to Britain.

    And a question for Louise Barton from Neil from London, concerned about equal opportunities for men as well: "Would you agree that if women are entitled to equal pay, which of course they are, that a) women should also have to work till the same retirement age as men and b) that men are entitled to improved paternity rights?"

    Louise Barton:
    I do really, I think very much there are issues for men as well as there are issues for women in the city.

    But I think many women do attempt to work until retirement age, I think a lot of them retire because they have problems with childcare, they retire because they have similar problems to the problems that I've had with having to fight the system the whole time.

    But I think generally women who are career women do want to actually work until retirement.

    And yes there are issues for men as well, I mean I was talking to Julie a minute ago about some of the issues that men face in the city, particularly men approaching retirement, I think in many cases in the City their salaries are being used to subsidise some of the younger people coming through the firms.

    So yes there are issues and I think both men and women have to fight their cause and there are issues on both sides.

    And talking about what it's like to work in the city Chris Sutton from the UK asks you, Louise: "I have no idea how much my male or female colleagues earn, maybe the reason that males apparently earn more is because they lie with some sort of male bravado?"

    The city is notoriously testosterone filled - is that something you've come across?

    Louise Barton:
    Well, I think one of the big differences between men and women is that men, I think, are much better at projecting themselves and actually basically championing their own cause.

    Women, I think, tend to get down and do the job. And so there are I think are male/female differences which in a very, very competitive environment can actually work against a woman because they don't actually push themselves, they're not running around behind the chief executive saying - well look I've got this deal - because that's part of their work.

    Is that something you found - if you don't play the game you lose out?

    Louise Barton:
    Well, I don't think it's a question - well it is playing the game, it's playing politics the whole time. But I mean the point is you are in the job to the do job and if you do the job properly and you make the big contribution - a contribution to a firm and if you produce the revenue just because you don't go around and politic to the chief executive and say - 'well I was here doing this deal last night' - it doesn't mean that you should be paid a lower salary. If you produce the goods you should be paid accordingly.

    Julie Mellor:
    But I think there's another issue for women in the City because actually the culture is so appalling that women are not encouraged to give of their best or make their case.

    You have a culture - the recent sex discrimination cases that we've read about in the press where entertainment is going to strip clubs, someone was actually asked to strip off and give a client a massage, entertainment included hiring escort agencies - that's the kind of environment, it does not encourage women to give of their best or feel valued in the city.

    And a question that I'm going to throw open to anybody. R. Shaw from London says: "I don't feel that society gives me the choices as a man to do what I want, society dictates it's still first and foremost my wife's decision if she wants to work or not. Maybe women, although underpaid, still have more choices in life." Judith Mayhew?

    Judith Mayhew:
    I would agree in many cases that is the case and that we do find young women dropping out after eight or nine years because they do take the choices of having more flexible life/work balance and being able to do different things.

    I agree that men are very much in gender straightjackets, that society expects them to be the breadwinner and doesn't give them the flexibility that women might be able to choose to have.

    The flip side of that, of course, is that what women do is therefore less valued and under-valued and I think what we have to do is to get a much better balance between the two sexes in relation to this. And I would agree with his comment.

    Louise Barton?

    Louise Barton:
    Yes I would support what Judith said as well but I think there are issues where women - I mean I know a lot of women who don't have children, so don't have as many problems in terms of balancing this work/home environment but still have problems. Which does tend to suggest that there is a bias in the system towards male colleagues.

    Yes, Julie Mellor, from the Equal Opportunities Commission's point of view, Chris from London asks: "I'm a man and I get paid less than all the women in my office - what about me?"

    Julie Mellor:
    I think I agree with what Louise and Judith have been saying - of course there are issues for men, as well as women, and my organisation is a gender equality body, it's not a women's body.

    And we have supported people - men - in cases where they feel they have been discriminated against, for example, earlier this year we supported Neil Walkinshaw who wanted to work part-time when his wife went back to work after maternity leave and he won his case because women in his firm were able to work part-time and he had been denied it.

    They have now sorted it out but that's an example of the kind of case that we are now supporting to make sure men can have a decent work/life balance and aren't discriminated against.

    Yes, there seem to be some concerns about alienating women in the workplace if there's too much emphasis on equal opportunity.

    Steve from the UK asks, Judith: "What do you think the effect of these ever increasing laws in favour of women have on the general attitude of men towards women?"

    Judith Mayhew:
    Well I think it's vitally important that enlightened men see that this is to create a better balance in the workforce for both sexes and I think it's a question of Julie's organisation's good publicity to show that this is not just for men or women, it's actually for both sexes to have better conditions for all people working in the workplace.

    And picking up on that, Mekibib Dawit from London says: "I think there's still a problem with the disparity between what white people of both sexes and minority employees of both sexes earn. Shouldn't we tackle all sorts of discrimination with equal vigour?" Julie Mellor?

    Julie Mellor:
    We set up a taskforce on equal pay a few years ago and that taskforce recommended, when it recommended that employers do pay reviews, that they actually analysed not just pay by gender but by race and disability as well. I would agree with the caller.

    And another question for you Judith, John from France says: "In my experience the calibre of men holding top jobs is way below what many women could offer but they're kept out by the boy's club network.

    "Why can't we all go back and progress on merit and qualification and forget about gender?"

    Obviously that would be very nice, do you think it's possible?

    Judith Mayhew:
    Well I think what we have to do is to realise a lot of it is about networking and having the courage to take the opportunities and I would say to women who are listening - take those opportunities, grab them shamelessly and pursue them because unless you do it yourself you will not get the critical mass of people coming through, build up your networks and work them as much as the men do.

    Louise Barton:
    I would wholeheartedly agree with Judith. I mean one of the big problems in the city is that because there are so few women in senior positions they do suffer from a lack of a network system - it is a major problem.

    But as more and more women move into the city I mean these problems will just fade away because some of the advantages that men have, because they network, will automatically be available to women as well.

    Well I'm afraid that's all we've got time for today, thank you very much for all your e-mails and comments and thank you very much to our guests, it's been a very interesting discussion.

    That's it from me, Jenny Scott, and this BBC News interactive forum.

    BBC News Online will be interviewing Dame Judith Mayhew on Thursday, 10 October.

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