Why I'll be out of office on Equal Pay Day
A view from Kate Waters

Why I'll be out of office on Equal Pay Day

This Friday, 10 November, is Equal Pay Day. It's the day that marks the point in the year when women effectively stop being paid relative to men, thanks to the gender pay gap, which means that, on average, women are paid 18.4% less than men.

It’s a shocking statistic and an issue that remains stubbornly difficult to address. In 2016, research by Deloitte calculated that the pay gap would not be eradicated until 2069. Why such poor progress? My hunch is that widespread misunderstanding of the issue is at least partly to blame.

Earlier this year, we ran an ad for the Women’s Equality Party that drew attention to the gender pay gap using some deliberately shocking imagery. 

But most of the people who took issue with the ad did so, not because of the imagery, but because they thought our ‘assertion’ of a gender pay gap was simply a lie. ‘How can there be a gender pay gap’, they raged, ‘when it’s now illegal to pay women less than men for doing the same role?’.

What these dissenters are referring to of course is unequal pay – the practice of paying men and women differently for the same work. This is illegal, and has been since the Equal Pay Act of 1970.  While, sadly, it is still one of the causes of the gender pay gap, it’s by no means the only cause and is certainly not the biggest.  In advertising, for example, IPA data suggests that the key issue is the lack of women in senior roles.

While the numbers of women and men in the industry as a whole are more or less equal (50.2% female), only 30.5% of senior management roles, which obviously command the biggest salaries, are held by women (down from 33.1% in 2015, by the way). And more broadly, occupational segregation in the workplace – the fact that women often end up in lower paid jobs like clerical, catering or caring roles, whereas men are more likely to end up in more highly paid STEM careers – is one of the biggest factors driving the gender pay gap.

But we in advertising like to make things simple. Simple thoughts tend to lead to more compelling and memorable communication. And so, many of the campaigns around Equal Pay Day, perhaps unsurprisingly, focus on the issue of unequal pay. (And yes, whoever named the day didn’t help the matter by creating a name for the day marking the gender pay gap as being all about unequal pay…). They’re great campaigns, but as someone who cares passionately about the gender pay gap, and as a planner who’s been brought up on the adage ‘a problem well defined is a problem half solved’, I think we can do better.  

Only 30.5% of senior management roles, which obviously command the biggest salaries, are held by women

Next year, companies with more than 250 employees will have to report their gender pay gap. It’s a start, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t really go far enough, does it? Only a fraction of UK businesses have more than 250 employees, and women aren’t all ‘average’. What does the gender pay gap look like for women with disabilities? Or women of colour? Or working mothers?  If we want real change, better reporting of the problem, giving better understanding of what causes it, is a good place to start. But as ever, action is the only thing that really matters. 

So, this Equal Pay Day, I’ll be taking a small action that I fully intend will lead to bigger and more far-reaching ones. As part of a campaign for the Women’s Equality Party, I’ll be switching on my Out Of Office, along with many of our friends in the industry – Campaign, the AAR, Oystercatchers, Wacl and Thinkbox and the female first dating app Bumble to name but a few -  to mark the day that women effectively stop getting paid. 

Of course, I’ll still be in the office, but declaring I’m Out of Office is not just a simple act of solidarity. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on what we really need to do to fix the pay gap. At Now, we’ve already looked at our pay gap statistics and were shocked to find they’re not what we wanted them to be. So, we’ll be using Equal Pay Day to pay attention to the stuff that can make a real difference – from choosing to work with more female-led organisations, to taking a long hard look at our recruitment processes, to encouraging our male employees to take up the shared parental leave that’s due to them.  It’s not just morally the right thing to do, and it’s not just women who benefit. Economic gender parity could add £188bn to GDP. Who wouldn’t want a share of it?

If you’d like to join us in making a point about the gender pay gap, copy and paste the message below and remember to set your Out of Office for this Friday, 10th November. The team at Now will be using it and it would be great if the industry got behind it too:

SUBJECT LINE: Out of Office. For the rest of the year.


Not really, I’m just making a point.


Today is effectively the last day women in the UK are paid to work. Because of the gender pay gap the average woman is working for free until the end of the year.  


So, if women aren’t getting paid, why should they work?


That’s why I’ve switched on my Out Of Office.


This is to raise awareness of the pay gap, which on average is 18.4% and for some women it’s even worse.


If like me, and the Women’s Equality Party, you think it’s time something changed, you can join in by copying this message and switching on your Out of Office too.


This Equal Pay Day, it’s time to get rid of the pay gap.


#OutOfOffice  @WEP_UK

By Kate Waters is the co-founder and chief Strategy officer at Now