Closing the Gender Pay Gap

If we simply wait for pay and recognition in the workplace for women to become equal ‘naturally’, without intervention, it is unlikely to happen.

Executive summary

Research at Birmingham Business School focuses on understanding why the Gender Pay Gap (GPG) has developed, why it persists, and what we can all do to ensure women are paid for the work they do.

We have come to three key conclusions:

  1. Claims that the GPG and differential achievement are a result of women’s choices are unsupportable. Women encounter cultural and structural obstacles every day that men have little or no experience of. This grinding exclusion often results in highly trained, highly skilled women either leaving their chosen profession or working at lower levels than their skills and experience merit.
  2. This is a multi-disciplinary issue, that all academic fields can make a contribution to understanding. Economists show that gender is the key variable that contributes to the GPG even after controlling for other factors such as work experience; accounting researchers show how workplace policies have differential effects through ‘gender budgeting’; and sociologists provide insights into designing and implementing workplace change programmes to improve equality of opportunity and outcome.
  3. That multi-disciplinarity means there are no simple solutions to the GPG and discrimination generated in male-dominated masculine workplace cultures. Easily implemented interventions are however available, such as funding for anti-discrimination training, more and better childcare, increases to the minimum wage, better job evaluation.


Workplace gender inequality is a global phenomenon. The ‘gender pay gap’ (GPG), measuring the difference between men’s and women’s mean or median wages, is the most evident and direct manifestation of gender inequality, and shows how far we have to go in achieving just and inclusive workplaces. The gender pay gap exists because higher paid roles tend to be male dominated and the lowest paid tend to be female dominated. It therefore differs from the concept of ‘pay inequality’, which refers to unequal pay for equal work that has been illegal since the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

It is clear that if we simply wait for pay and recognition in the workplace for women to become equal ‘naturally’, without intervention, it is unlikely to happen. The Fawcett Society estimates the current rate of progress means a wait of around a century, assuming continuous change. That means the first generation to be paid equally would be born at the beginning of the next century. And, of course progress in this area is patchy and unpredictable – between 2014 and 2017 there was little or no change. That means women’s economic independence remains lower than men’s, women’s pensions payments remain lower than men’s, and organizations benefit from women’s skills and experience without always paying for their true value.

Academic leads

Professor Fiona Carmichael, Chair in Labour Economics, University of Birmingham

Dr Marco Ercolani, Senior Lecturer in Economics, Univesity of Birmingham

Dr Scott Taylor, Reader in Leadership and Organization Studies, University of Birmingham

Download the full briefing

Contact us