Women should be able to find out male colleagues’ salaries, says charity

Fawcett Society calls for greater transparency around earnings, highlighting that equal pay is still a ‘distant dream’ for many female workers

Women should be given the legal right to find out what their male colleagues earn if they suspect they are a victim of pay discrimination, the Fawcett Society has said, arguing that women need “an enforceable right to know” what their colleagues earn if they are to challenge discriminatory behaviour.

The charity called for a change in the law to create greater transparency around earnings, claiming 79 per cent of the men and women it polled about the policy supported giving women the right to know.

The call was made in a new report, Why Women Need A Right To Know, published today to mark Equal Pay Day, the day in the calendar year when women effectively stop being paid due to the gender pay gap.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said that nearly 50 years on from the introduction of the Equal Pay Act, pay equality was “still a distant dream for many women”, and that pay secrecy meant women could not know if they were being rewarded fairly.

“Even if they do suspect a man is earning more, it is almost impossible to do anything about it. This is why we are calling for a change in the law. Women need an enforceable right to know what their colleagues earn so that they can challenge unequal pay,” Smethers said.

She added that men could help end pay discrimination by “simply telling their female colleagues what they earn”.

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Currently, there is no general requirement for employers to disclose specific individuals’ salaries to their workforce, and often the only way for a woman who suspects she is being paid unequally to find out is to take her employer to tribunal.

Moya Greene, former chief executive of Royal Mail, and who recently launched the #MeTooPay campaign against pay discrimination, supported the policy, saying transparency around salaries and bonuses would improve the problem. “If you suspect your compensation is discriminatory you should have a right to receive clear information so that your suspicions can be either validated or allayed,” she said.

“One should not have to rely on long expensive legal processes like employment tribunals to get the facts on the table. If people are not prepared to provide the facts and explain any differential, it probably means there is no sensible  justification for the differential.”

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said the changes called for by the Fawcett Society could help others as well as women in the workplace.

“If there was to be a right to know what other people are paid it should apply to everyone, as it is not just women who suffer from pay inequality, but also people from minority ethnic backgrounds, and those with disabilities,” he said. 

But Willmott noted that increasing pay transparency was not a magic bullet in itself, and that the adoption of more progressive people management and development practices – including more inclusive recruitment practices, a wider uptake of flexible working, properly trained line managers and more equitable parental leave policies –  were also needed. 

While many businesses currently actively look to prevent discussions around pay in the workplace, Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at Peninsula, said increased transparency needn’t necessarily be a concern for employers.

“Providing pay practices remain fair, an increase in transparency may help disprove any suspicions that female staff have and guard against further unrest,” Palmer said, adding that equal pay law already allows staff to ignore any secrecy clauses around salaries in their contract if the reason for their discussions relates to concerns over unlawful pay practices.