Would you pay Allen more than Ellen?

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This week Olivia Colman told CNN “if I was Oliver Colman, I’d be earning a f*** of a lot more than I am”. Here our Managing Director Ellen Widdup looks at the issue of pay disparity – and the importance of challenging the status quo.

It used to be that box office revenue determined an actor’s worth. But Hollywood is an industry built on assumptions, so how can one actually predict which stars really put bums on seats?

This is certainly the thoughts of Olivia Colman who spoke out on the issue of equal pay this week, claiming she would earn more as an Oliver.

And she isn’t the first star to take a swipe at remuneration disparity in her industry.

Back in 2022 Jennifer Lawrence told Vogue: “It doesn’t matter how much I do. I’m still not going to get paid as much as that guy, because of my vagina.”

Before that, Mark Wahlberg’s salary for All the Money in the World was reportedly $5 million while Michelle Williams took home $625,000, despite the fact that the co-stars essentially had equal screen time.

To rub salt in the wounds Wahlberg then demanded $1.5 million for reshoots after Kevin Spacey was dropped, while Michelle got less than $1,000, prompting a backlash that led to Wahlberg donating his extra earnings to the Time’s Up campaign.

Michelle said of the scandal: “it simply reinforced my life-learned belief that equality is not an inalienable right and that women would always be working just as hard for less money while shouldering more responsibility at home.”

Oh Michelle, I hear you.

Because this is not just a Hollywood problem.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), median hourly pay for full-time employees was 7.7% less for women than for men in April 2023.

And, because a larger proportion of women are employed part-time, and part time workers tend to earn less per hour, the gender pay gap for all employees is considerably larger – 14.3% less for women than for men in April 2023.

Horrifically, at current rates the gender pay gap will take at least another 20 years to close.

The division of care

A key driver of the pay gap is the division and undervaluing of care work.

Women still undertake most caring responsibilities in families and many who want to undertake paid work outside the home often have little choice but to reduce their hours or leave the workplace entirely.

This exacerbates the pay gap by reducing women’s earnings and their access to progression opportunities.

And in many two parent households where both parents work, it can become a cycle where the lower earner is the one who reduces hours or drops out of the labour market: in most relationships this is a woman.

The Equal Pay Day 2023 report, Making flexible working the default, found that on average working women take home £574 a month less than men – or £6,888 a year.

Blaming a lack of flexible working in well-paid, high-quality jobs, the report found that women were forced to put up with less fair and less equal working arrangements in exchange for the flexibility required to balance their caring responsibilities.

Tackling the divide

Let’s talk about Claudia Goldin.

Last year she became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics as an individual rather than as part of a group of academics.

The week she received the award, Goldin also published a working paper, entitled “Why Women Won.”

But the title of the paper is a misnomer.

She acknowledges that “many women, today, remember the moment in 1974 when they could get a credit card in their own name or in the early 1970s when, as teachers, they were allowed to keep their jobs when pregnant.”

But while she recognises women’s legal rights today are largely equivalent to men’s, the pay gap remains a stubborn and continual challenge.

You might think that the pandemic provided an opportunity for women to address disparity.

But back in 2020 on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, British women were back in the home, up to their ears in school homework and nappies, watching their careers dissolve as they sacrificed their own economic viability to care at home.

Having said that, Covid-19 did pave the way for more career paths that were remote and flexible.

And among them came the birth of Satsuma.

Our way

We saw that the current system was stacked against women.

But rather than accept this as an inevitability we looked at tangible ways tackle it.

And this started with flexible working.

When flexible working is not offered, a lot of women find themselves having to do work that doesn’t quite meet their skill level or earning potential because they need flexibility to be close to home to meet their caring responsibilities.

Anna Whitehouse, a broadcaster and the founder of Flex Appeal, a campaign for the adoption of flexible working across all UK jobs, once said: “We are in a system set up for women to fail, to an extent, and I think we need companies to help us bridge that gender pay gap.”

So that’s what we try to do at Satsuma with the majority of us working mothers who want to use their talent and experience while striking that elusive work life balance that can include school assemblies, parents’ evenings, sports days, doctors’ appointments and more.

I would strongly advocate increased uptake of flexible working in business, judging people and promotions by productivity not presenteeism.

It’s not a silver bullet. But it is one way to tackle ongoing inequality for women, who continue to fight for what is right.

And, as Olivia Colman once said: “I suppose I have played a lot of put-upon women, but it’s never bothered me. They’ve never been weak – they’ve always got steel in them.”

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