The divisive nonsense of Equal Pay Day

The real problem for women in the workplace is not sexism – it's childcare costs.

Ella Whelan

Ella Whelan


As the festive season approaches, the feminist calendar celebrates one of its favourite annual markers – Equal Pay Day. According to the Fawcett Society, 14 November is the day from which women, in comparison with their male counterparts, ‘are effectively working for free until the end of the year’. The Fawcett Society claims that the mean gender pay gap for full-time workers is 13.1 per cent.

As most people know, since the 1970 Equal Pay Act was passed, it is illegal to pay men and women different wages for the same work. So scaremongering about unequal pay can be misleading. What the Fawcett Society and others are referring to when they mention the ‘pay gap’ is the fact that, regardless of different work levels, hours, skill sets and ages, women, as a homogenous group, are paid less than men. This doesn’t mean, then, that 13.1 per cent of women are subject to sexist pay rates simply because they are women.

Of course, not everyone follows the law. And this year the Fawcett Society has focused on a case of discrimination concerning Kay Collins, a long-time chef who discovered she was being paid £6,000 less a year than her male counterpart. Collins is right to take her employer to court.

But this has prompted the Fawcett Society to support a #RightToKnow campaign. Because there is currently no easy way for female workers to find out what their male counterparts earn, the #RightToKnow campaign calls on the government to ‘change the law so that women who suspect they are experiencing pay discrimination can find out if they are earning less than their male colleagues doing equal work’.

However, it is already perfectly possible to bring a legal case of discrimination against your employer if you, as a female, believe your pay to be unequal to that of a male colleague doing the same work. The call for a law change is based on the assumption that unless men are watched and monitored, they will try to line their own pockets, or keep their bonuses secret, at the expense of their female co-workers. This nonsense is extremely destructive for workplace solidarity. It drives an imaginary wedge between male and female workers, who should (and usually do) have each others’ backs. But perhaps worst of all, it perpetuates the myth that most workplaces are out to hire and promote more men than women, simply because they prefer men in higher positions of employment.

The truth is the existence of a gender pay gap cannot simply be blamed on crude sexism. Figures show that women in their early twenties and thirties actually out-earn men of a similar age. This changes when women become pregnant. One of the stumbling blocks society continues to face, then, is the fact that women are still expected to be the main caregivers for children. When they start to have a family, most women find themselves having to take time off work (either by choice or necessity).

The differences in pay and position are not down to sexist bosses penalising us poor little ladies. They’re due to the fact that society is structured in such a way that it often leaves women holding the baby, and therefore unable to work late hours, or endure the inflexible working arrangements that many jobs (especially those that are less well paid) require.

What can we do to fix this, besides indulging in an annual Twitter sesh of right-on hashtags and headline-grabbing petitions? Sadly, too many of the solutions offered remain facile. This year, for instance, publications like HuffPost have provided women with handy guides on how to combat the supposed pay deficit. They offer suggestions like ‘win your manager over’, and ‘be a valuable mentor to younger women’. The idea that women don’t already know how to be serious, ambitious and kind to each other in the workplace is rather insulting.

Then there’s the Labour Party, which has announced plans to cut the pay gap – extending maternity leave to 12 months, as well as raising the minimum wage to £10 and introducing ‘a menopause workplace policy to break the stigma associated with the menopause’. Rather than tackle the real reason why the pay gap exists for most women – childcare costs – the Labour Party is content to tinker round the edges, spending money and time teaching managers how not to blush when someone has a hot flush, or giving mums and dads a paltry extra three months with their newborns.

What would work, immediately, would be for a new government to nationalise childcare – along with transport, healthcare, and other essential aspects of our daily lives. Enabling women (and men) to be flexible with their childcare and work arrangements, and not to have to worry about missing out on an important shift because their childminder has called in sick, would alleviate the pressure on women to fulfil the role of the primary carer. Such a bold step would force us to face up to, and challenge, the fact that women are still seen as the chief nose-wipers and appointment-keepers.

So, if we want to get serious about freeing up women’s time and space to achieve as highly as men – in and out of the workplace – we need to think seriously about a nationalised, 24-hour childcare service.

Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist and the author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.



Jonathan Andrews

21st November 2019 at 9:12 am

Ella’s suggestion about a nationalised child care system doesn’t seem healthy to me. The problem of ensuring parent (women especially) have fair opportunities at work is more complicated. Having experience of childcare, there are too many parents who appear to see it as a dumping ground for their children.
Encouragement of flexible working seems a better place to start.

Fred Forsythe

19th November 2019 at 9:51 am

Does ability not count. Some chefs are better than others and good restaurants have to fight to keep them. I take it that they must now pay a mediocre female chef the same pay as a brilliant, talented male chef in order to keep the male chef on whom their reputation, thus survival, relies.
Perhaps we need to do away with all gender specific employment and make sports women compete against sportsmen and winners take the money.

T Zazoo

19th November 2019 at 4:41 pm

I think we are already seeing sportswomen being forced to complete against men. They’re just not called men any longer.

James Hamilton

18th November 2019 at 11:40 am

One really must wonder why some people assume that looking after your own children is inferior to working in a factory.

Lord Anubis

18th November 2019 at 1:57 pm

Successive governments hate the Non-Cash economy that is represented by people who stay at home, do their own housework, Cooking, and childcare since it represents a significant aspect of overall GDP and yet cannot be taxed.

Encouraging Women to go out to work is primarily about broadening the tax base. “Equality” issues are only the window dressing.

(Much like “Minimum Wage” which is set at a level that is actually above the basic rate tax threshold, it is a way of forcing employers to pay more tax via their employees wages, not about ensuring that people have a minimum basic take home income to ensure that they can achieve a reasonable standard of living)

Claire D

18th November 2019 at 2:16 pm

Exactly right.

Lord Anubis

17th November 2019 at 5:28 pm

The hard nosed capitalist position would be that if a Woman can’t make enough to justify paying for her own child care, then she probably isn’t making enough to justify having anybody else pay for it either and that she (And everybody else) would be better off if she stayed at home. 😉

Ven Oods

17th November 2019 at 1:58 pm

And, what was the point of those *gilets oranges* in the headline pic? Are they all earning more than the late-for-work female who’s hurrying by?

Ven Oods

17th November 2019 at 1:56 pm

One of the problems with large-scale childcare schemes seems (on the evidence of the last couple of decades) to be that it attracts a minority of people who should never be allowed access to children. Since no vetting procedure is foolproof, I’d be wary of dropping off little Lucinda and Oscar at a facility where I know nothing about the staff, but must just trust to fate.

antoni orgill

16th November 2019 at 7:17 pm

The problem of ‘societal structuring’ as you explain it is somehow in contradistinction to the imperatives of business. You’re wrong. Think about it. And, what’s wrong with ‘society’ believing that women should be the main carers of their own children? That seems like an entirely reasonable expectation. I didn’t have a child so he could be of service to society nor did his mother. I think that where the state should impose societal expectation is in the supervision of business in order to ensure a better deal for working mums. State-run childcare seems like a panic-driven idea and nationalisation ..? No way.

Claire D

16th November 2019 at 12:22 pm

The Government, the civil service which supports it and social studies organisations eg, ‘ Understanding Society ‘, which provide information to both, treat being a mother (if not being a woman) as a problem that must be solved or an illness which we must all be cured of. They do it because it is potentially financially more remunerative to government. Feminism is a byline now, a front to coerce us all into the right behaviour. There’s nothing free or humane about it Ella.

Gweedo LeStrange

19th November 2019 at 6:10 pm

It’s all about giving free stuff to women, until our civilization collapses under the weight of female entitlement. Not surprising to see this woman failing to take responsibility for her life choices and force them on the taxpayer.

Claire D

21st November 2019 at 8:53 am

Who is ” this woman ” you refer to ? Me ? Ella ?

I think you might be in a bit of a muddle.

Claire D

22nd November 2019 at 10:49 am

” This woman ” would like to point out to the discourteous Gweedo that the tax break I have suggested in my comment below has nothing to do with ” female entitlement ” and everything to do with being of benefit to families and society. As I have already explained, by encouraging the formation of a stable family unit we increase the chances of a happier society.

Claire D

22nd November 2019 at 10:58 am

From your hostile, out of context comment I think it is highly likely you have an imaginary woman in your mind that has no connection with myself, or any other real woman.

Claire D

22nd November 2019 at 8:36 pm

Gweedo, I think you probably meant Ella, in which case sorry about that, just ignore my last 2 comments.

M Blando

15th November 2019 at 10:52 pm

It’s not as simple as one or the other, it’s a bit of both, Ella – would that the world were that simple.

There is a lot of secrecy around pay, for various reasons. One of the reasons *is* that pay is subjective and women *are* perceived to be of lower worth in the work place, unfortunately. Try reading “Why do so many incompetent men become leaders?”. It’s an interesting book with illuminating explanations of perceived worth. He, the author, takes a clever line though, saying it’s not about lowering the barriers to women, but about raising them for men instead. He argues they’re too low for men.

antoni orgill

15th November 2019 at 6:44 pm

This idea is another prankish essay, right? It’s a bad idea to nationalise broadband because that would allow the control-freak mentality ever more powers to meddle, finger-point, etc … but, when it comes to child-care ..? You really must be kidding, love. Truly, this is about as crap an idea as I’ve ever seen on ‘spiked’. You look after your own kids (if you have any) and let the rest of us make our own arrangements.

Matt Ryan

16th November 2019 at 10:07 am

Have to agree. If mum has a good job then why can’t dad look after their sprogs? Because they both “have” to work? Well, that’s a choice they make – no need for society at large to get involved and *especially* not pay for your life choices.

Ven Oods

17th November 2019 at 1:50 pm

“It’s a bad idea to nationalise broadband…”
The same apparent contradiction in approach struck me.

That ‘love’ was a bit risky, though, in the current climate. I haven’t checked, but it probably constitutes hate speech as defined by the Met.

Sam Ford

15th November 2019 at 2:33 pm

Guess what people crave identity the alternative is communism so supporting contrived identities makes people feel theve not lost all when infact it’s been traded for their past in preparation for globalised communism…Identity politics is the last vestige of broken national identity this collapse was well orchastrated and an attack on all previous norms and their embodiment within people…. Masculinity isn’t toxic in homenogenic societies that work for a common goal it’s prized and attractive to ‘its’ females as it’s females were…not a herd to be dominated… The outsider was always the less attractive to be around the masculine foibles and attitudes of due to the desire not to be their booty…this still lives on females are still selective not a herd..feminism has used this barrier to non acceptance of all masculinities to create fear of all! Competing with men not with other women for the best men thus degenerating the standards of both.
. As usual masculinity and gender taken out of context and the real issues obscured through a PC perspective. Try looking how it worked in a homenogenic environment then degenerated .Did feminists seem at war with Western art no ..did people attack their protector and the one who put bread on the table various repulsions of males & females is due to not having a common goal a common archetype to aspire to, to be able to put yourself into creating a family and group future resembling you! The nightclubs the workplace and many places are now constant dodging of the diverse..a desperate cry for identity among this cochopheny of carnage it’s not sexy..females rightly don’t want to be dominated by a global areana (harem) of men hungry for’s unsexy as are the archetypes today lest they appear too select & containing privalige… The decline of pride in traditional identity created a warzone..unprotected former identities that never asked for this kind of liberation are looking to pin blame in the wrong (but acceptable)’s war against the seed revelations 12:17 the left eats itself consumes Babylon..but guess what, that’s forbidden knowledge there is no Antichrist just perpetual reruns and analysis of what we should re engineer.. because embodiment of tradition as in people can never truly be seen as under attack only the periferols and adornments found in art and culture…but guess what as you educators know those are the tools of the politics of who thrives and who does not always used, but to twiddle fingers about it all works best for those not so in the cut and thrust and more concerned with appearing objective within your fold in your given day sad small afraid minds !

Patrick Neylan

16th November 2019 at 5:18 pm

Have you ever heard of paragraphs or punctuation?

Ven Oods

17th November 2019 at 1:46 pm

It was an example of ‘breathless prose’.

David Goldsmith

15th November 2019 at 12:04 pm

The Village People (in the photograph) seem less diverse than they used to be. That doesn’t seem right.

Claire D

15th November 2019 at 10:32 am

Is Ella seriously suggesting women and their families would find life so much easier and more fulfilling if only there was a 24 hour childcare facility on every street corner ? Far fetched to put it politely.

How about looking at what women actually do with their lives instead of thinking about what feminist analysis says they ought to do in order to compete more effectively with men.

Most women are not feminists. Most women want to be with their children as much as they can and put their careers on hold, or go part-time if they can afford to do so. Therefore, who is this article directed at ? The high fliers who can afford nannies ? Obviously not. Middle class women who make up the majority of full-time mothers by choice, but others of whom may want a career more? Or poor working class women who cannot afford to do what they would like at all but have to juggle manically to survive ?
All the young middle class women I know are extremely careful over who cares for their babies and children if they prioritise their careers (often out of necessity).
As far as I can tell, where I live, working class women are just as affectionate and loving of their babies and children as most other women and prefer partners or grandparents wherever possible to help with childcare. Maybe humans are just supposed to live in small groups, often called families, and bring up their offspring in the secure atmosphere that a reasonable home and loving family provides. Maybe instead of the communist inspired municipal nursery idea we, as a society, should be helping and encouraging the formation of families, or alternative family type groups, to ensure the well being of babies, children, teenagers, women and men.
Decent tax breaks for the main breadwinner with a family would be a good start.

Dominic Straiton

15th November 2019 at 8:55 am

Nationalised, 24 hour, government childcare. What could possibly go wrong! Meanwhile the national dept is rising £5000 a second.

Matt Ryan

16th November 2019 at 10:09 am

Yeah, no example of the NHS killing people or kids being abused on council run facilities.

Fred Forsythe

19th November 2019 at 9:59 am

All synchronised and controlled. Brilliant it would be a kindergarten for pre-university indoctrination.

H McLean

15th November 2019 at 3:52 am

“…One of the stumbling blocks society continues to face, then, is the fact that women are still expected to be the main caregivers for children…”

If we’re being honest, the majority of women, even the right-on middle-class feminists, don’t want their man to take time off to look after the baby while they go back to work – they want to do it themselves.

Gweedo LeStrange

19th November 2019 at 6:12 pm

Yes. But it’s not fashionable to suggest that a woman be economically dependent on the father of her children, even for a small amount of time.

David Watford

15th November 2019 at 12:29 am

The reason women miss work is usually not that their child are worker gets sick. It’s because their child is sick and can’t be in childcare. Unless fathers take time of work to care for sick children.that isn’t going to change. But one parent is going to missing work and companies will always prefer to hire the worker who works more.

Jonathan Andrews

21st November 2019 at 9:14 am

Agreed, fathers need to be more willing to help (or allowed to help more easily)

Anna Bolick

14th November 2019 at 7:59 pm

“Then there’s the Labour Party, which has announced plans to cut the pay gap – extending maternity leave to 12 months”

A contradition in terms. Extending maternity leave increases the gender “pay gap”.

Dave Spart

14th November 2019 at 7:34 pm

Ella reminds me of my mum, in that she would tend to align herself with the working class, rather than the whole of her gender. It’s lovely.

Hersch Schneider

14th November 2019 at 10:41 pm

‘The whole of her gender’

Listen to yourself

Ven Oods

17th November 2019 at 1:43 pm

And your problem with that expression was….?

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