Equal Pay Day was the 4th November 2011 this year, campaigning on behalf of the average full-time female worker, still earning on average 84.5% of what the average full-time male worker takes home.

This day was 84.5% of the way through the year, symbolically showcasing the point at which women, effectively ‘stop getting paid’.

The day itself, let by the Fawcett Society in the UK, did not attract massive media attention. At Oxford, we held a workshop on negotiating salary and benefits and a ‘know your employment rights’ session to mark the occasion. 15 women attended.

Perhaps explanations for the salary gap are too easy to call to mind. Ideas that maternity leave can delay promotion, or that managing childcare is easier in less senior roles with increased flexibility. These are such common notions in the informal conversations we have with other women, that the salary gap hardly seems surprising. We know that working women still take on the lion’s share of caring responsibilities at home, so the vast majority weren’t suprised that still it seemed there was an impact on salary.

So why is Equal Pay Day still worth mentioning, over a month after the event?

At Oxford, we have a gender salary gap just six months into students’ working lives (click ‘Salary by gender’ for the table below):

The more I show this chart to people (based on the last two years of DLHE data: see here for details), the more I think about how Equal Pay Day missed an opportunity to take wider issues of caring responsibilities out of the equation. Certainly, as I look at this data and consider how to find the underlying issues (role choice? sector choice?) I am struck by two simple facts:

  1. Before issues of child care, progression and promotion even came into the picture, graduate women in all bar one division of one of the best universities in the world were earning significantly less than their male peers.
  2. This is about far more that grades; the exam result disparities are much less significant.

Further research from the central university is planned to explore the finals gap, OUSU (Oxford’s Student Union and VP for Women Yuan Yang) are looking into a possible ‘leaky pipeline’ in terms of female  leadership (following the excellent Princeton report), and I’m planning to dig a little deeper into the DLHE data.

But Equal Pay Day next year needs to learn this lesson. The average difference in full-time women’s and men’s wages, this 84.5% statistic, isn’t strong enough to avoid ready explications. It’s only when I show people this chart that I feel I persuade them that gender salary differences are about much more than maternity.