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Why it isn’t as simple as women asking for more pay

While a new study has found that four in five women could be missing out on being paid more due to not negotiating wages when applying for jobs, the research risks overlooking the complex range of factors behind the gender pay gap.

The issue of women not receiving equal pay to men working in similar or less senior roles is the result of systemic problems with workplaces and wider employment practices. Previous studies have also found that when women do request pay rises, they are judged more harshly by employers than men and less likely to be granted a raise.

Anna Ritchie Allan, executive director of Close the Gap, told The Independent: “I was struck by the onus being on women to take different actions to access equal pay rather than a systemic approach by employers to make sure they are paying women and men the same. There is evidence women who make complaints about equal pay or raise a grievance become victimised by their employer. They may be treated differently by colleagues or the employer or pushed out of their job.”

Ms Ritchie Allan argued the chief causes of the gender pay gap were pay discrimination, the significant underrepresentation of women in senior roles, and the fact they are more likely to do childcare and other types of care. She added: “Women also often do lower-paid jobs like retail, admin, cleaning and care work, whereas men are more likely to be in jobs which attract higher levels of pay – in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

The campaigner noted many UK employers are “unduly complacent” about their gender pay gap and erroneously assume they are already providing equal pay – overlooking biases built into decision-making processes about pay brackets. Pregnancy discrimination is another factor in the ongoing gender pay gap – with a study by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy previously finding one in nine women have been fired or made redundant, or were treated so badly they felt forced out of their job, after going back to work from maternity leave.

Researchers estimated about 54,000 women each year may lose their role at work because of pregnancy or maternity.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of Fawcett Society, a leading women’s rights organisation, told The Independent: “From their earliest moments girls are conditioned to put others first. Research shows that even when women ask for a pay rise they are less likely to receive one. Women are consistently undervalued. We need to modernise our equal pay law to give women the right to know if they are being paid unequally.”

A recent report by the Fawcett Society found men dominate every sector of public life, and equality for women remains “generations away” because progress on gender equality is “dismally slow”.