Harriet Harman is the Equality Minister in the UK and, as such, is pushing legislation to force government agencies and private firms with government contracts to disclose the average salary differences between men and women, and all private firms will be strongly encouraged to do so (under the threat of being required to do so). The legislation would additionally allow firms to proactively discriminate in favor of women and minorities in hiring if all other qualifications are equal. Of course, she's catching quite a bit of flak for this, since some people say women choose to make less money for doing the same work in order to care for their families. No, seriously, people are saying that.
If there's one thing that's fairly obvious to anyone that's been a victim of unequal pay — Lily Ledbetter, for example, whose case was thrown out by the Supreme Court last year because she didn't know she'd been discriminated against until it was too late to sue — it's that the hardest thing to prove in an unequal pay case is that you're making less money and doing the same/more work. Harman's legislation is designed to shame companies who have big pay gaps, combat the lack of information that stymies women when they try to rectify the situation and call attention to the issue. The legislation would also prohibit employers from forcing employees to sign contracts that specify they can't disclose their salaries, to which one in four Brits are subject.
Sadly, surveys in Britain regularly show that people really believe that women make less money than men because they choose to work in more poorly remunerated jobs — no one thinks that those jobs might be more poorly remunerated because they are staffed largely by women — and because women choose to take care of their families. Of course, in a system in which men get 2 weeks paternity leave and women a year, and in which there's virtually no flexibility on hours or provisions for child care (hey, it sounds like America!), "choose" is maybe not the most apt word.
For my part, I know full well I have received unequal pay at at least 2 prior jobs. In the first job, I took over from a man who made $45,000 after working there for 2 years. I came in (with a Master's degree) at $38,000 and left 2 years later making $42,000. The next job I took, I twisted the boss's arm to get $50,000 to start, and found out when my boss sent me to find something else on his messy desk that my predecessor made $58,000. By all accounts, I worked twice the hours and built the position into something much more important to the organization, but when I left after 3 years, I was making $55,000. Did I have a case? It's possible, but hard to prove without the cooperation of my predecessors and an admission by the organizations that what my job turned into was of equal or greater responsibility. On the other hand, knowing that I was making less money than my predecessors and discovering that there's always more money for a position than the person hiring you will admit to, has made me an iron-willed salary negotiator. If everyone knew what everyone else was making, it would put a lot more power in the hands of the laborers and less in the hands of management — which seems like it should naturally be the position of Britain's Labour Party. How can we get us one of those?
Harman Vows To Tackle 'Entrenched Discrimination' In The Workplace [The Guardian]
Pay Gap Between Sexes To Go Public [Reuters]
Harman Vows To Force Through 'True Equality' In The Workplace As Row Rages Over Plans To Discriminate Against White Men [Daily Mail]
TAP Talks With Lilly Ledbetter [The American Prospect]
New Equal Pay For Women Deal [The Sun]
What Kind of Equality? [The Guardian]