Two in five people don't know women are legally entitled to equal pay, survey reveals

6 Feb 2020 By Maggie Baska

Charity warns current laws are poorly understood by businesses and calls for update to pay discrimination legislation

A “shocking” number of people are unaware of women’s right to equal pay for work of equal value, a leading women’s rights charity has said.

Research by the Fawcett Society has found two in five people in the UK do not know equal pay is a statutory right, and just 36 per cent of people know women have a legal right to ask their employer about male colleagues’ salaries if they suspect they are a victim of pay discrimination. 

The charity, which polled 2,003 people across the UK, said the results showed current equal pay legislation was “poorly understood” and “too often ignored” in businesses.

The release of the survey coincided with the launch of a new bill in parliament that would give women the ‘right to know’ what a male co-worker is paid if they suspect they are not recieving equal pay for equal work.

Current equal pay laws mean women have the right to ask about a colleague's pay and any voluntary pay disclosures are protected by law; however, there is no requirement for an employer to disclose an individual employee’s salary to the workforce, and women often have to take employers to tribunal to force a disclosure.

The Fawcett Society said giving women the right to know would give them the opportunity to resolve equal pay issues without having to go through the tribunal system. The bill was developed by the Fawcett Society and submitted to the House of Lords by Baroness Prosser, and has passed its first reading.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said the “culture of secrecy” that discourages women from talking about salaries has allowed pay discrimination to persist, adding that misinformation about current legislation was rife. 

“Women do not have the information they need to challenge this injustice,” Smethers said. “Our new equal pay bill would give women who are not being paid equally a route to get the information they need. It’s time we gave all women the right to know.”

In the Fawcett Society survey, less than a quarter (24 per cent) of people said salaries were openly discussed in their workplace, with most not openly talking about what they earn. Only 8 per cent strongly agreed that people at their workplace talked openly about pay. 

However, 46 per cent of men said they would ‘probably’ share details about their salary with a female colleague if she asked. 

A third (34 per cent) said they would be more likely to tell their female co-workers how much they earned if she suspected she was being paid unequally, and 52 per cent said this would make no difference to them. 

The data also showed women felt uncomfortable talking about pay at work. More than half (52 per cent) of women said they would be embarrassed to ask their male co-workers how much they earn. 

The Fawcett Society said its right to know bill would help overcome this fear of discussing pay at work and reliance on “closed-door conversations” with co-workers by ensuring women can get information from their employer about equal pay if they suspect pay discrimination. 

Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at Peninsula, said the research highlighted that unequal pay remains a significant area of scrutiny, and it is important workers are aware of the rights they are entitled to.

“Employers need to remember that, while staff cannot force colleagues to reveal their salary information, they do reserve the right to ask the business to clarify if they have received equal pay to an appropriate comparator and, if not, the reason for the difference in the treatment,” Palmer explained. “While employers can prohibit staff from discussing salaries in general, this cannot be used to stop conversations concerning equal pay.”

The Fawcett Society said the equal pay bill would require employers to tell employees about their right to equal pay from the beginning of their contract, and it would update pay discrimination law by giving women back lost pensions and injury to feelings compensation if they win a tribunal case.

Associate Director of HR  - Organisational Development

Associate Director of HR - Organisational Development

London (Central), London (Greater)

£65,000 - £70,000

Brunel University

Head of HR - Part-Time

Head of HR - Part-Time

Chichester, England

Up to £40000 per annum


Strategic Business Partner, People & Culture

Strategic Business Partner, People & Culture

Our Global Hub Headquarters is based in Woking, Surrey, UK. Other bases/locations can be considered

£58,000 - £64,000

Morgan Law - Client Branded

View More Jobs

Explore related articles