The Equal Pay Act was established in 1970 by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It forbids less favorable conditions of employment and pays for women compared to men. This act was based on the Equal Pay Act established in 1963 in the United States, which was later on updated and superseded by the Equality Act of 2010. If an employee wants to claim disparity of their conditions in the workplace, they have to prove that:
- That the claimant’s work is the same or very similar to the other employee.
- That the claimant’s work has the same value as the other employee.
- That the claimant’s work is rated during the job evaluation in the same way as the other employee.
Both the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) released guidelines after the realization that in the UK there is a 15 percent of pay gap (as of 2019) and in the US it is 14 percent (as of 2017). On the 6th of April 2017, the UK government requested that all the companies that employ 250 or more people need to annually publish a report on their gender pay gap. The Report includes: “mean gender pay gap, median gender pay gap, mean bonus gender pay gap, median bonus gender pay gap, the proportion of men in the organization receiving a bonus payment, proportion of women in the organization receiving a bonus payment, proportion of men and women in each quartile pay band”1 These records show the improvement from 16 percent in 2018 to 15 percent in 2019. RIBA President – Ben Derbyshire states: “I encourage all practices, including those under the official threshold of 250-employees, to be transparent about their challenges, to sign the pledge and put in place actions to #CloseTheGap where it exists”2
These reports brought to light that even though some of the companies managed to decrease their pay gap, some of them, unfortunately, made it worse. TP Bennet had the biggest improvement of 8.6 percent (making the pay gap 4.2 percent in 2019). Zaha Hadid Architects, regrettably, had a 1.4 percentage rise, Hawking / Brown increased by 3.4 percent and Alford Hall Monaghan Morris noted a 4.4 percent raise. The latter provided an explanation that many of their women employees were on leave when the data was collected. The report does not take into account employees on maternity or sabbatical leave.
RIBA claims that a lot of disparity from women being placed on senior positions in Architecture comes from the fact that there is a huge increase in female students in recent years. It changed from 18 percent in 1979 to 49 percent in 2015. They indicate that there simply are fewer women than men architects with the experience that comes from years of practice to be placed at senior positions. AIA, however, disagrees with RIBA with the following statement:
“Wage gaps will not go away on their own. Looking at the gender wage gap for women as compared to men, in the United States it was near 60-percent in the 1960s; today it is 80-percent, with the most progress in closing the gap occurring between 1980–98 but slowing considerably since then. Closing education and experience gaps played a large role in that convergence but no longer account substantially for the gender wage gap. Currently, the gap is smallest at the start of careers and grows largest later in careers at top pay scales.”3
All this information leads to a question of whether the complete transparency of everyone’s salaries would help in fighting pay disparities. While it could cause more tensions and rivalry within the office, it could also clearly show imbalances that are not purely based on employee performance. Secrecy definitely makes it easier for prejudiced conduct in companies to go unnoticed. One of the myths in relation to pay disparities is that women simply don’t ask as often for a pay rise. Harvard Business Review, however, found out that that’s not the case. Pay transparency could potentially help women build a better case when asking for a rise.
AIA is raising another very concerning issue:
“…research shows that traits associated with each gender are rewarded unequally in the workplace, due to biased perception of personality, risk-taking, competitiveness, negotiation, etc. Men are typically rewarded for exhibiting traits traditionally considered masculine, but when women exhibit these same traits, they are not rewarded but are often penalized for them.” 4
There are some further state-specific protections in the US, such as California Fair Pay Act, which protects the employees that want to talk about their co-workers’ salaries. It also forces employers to record job classifications and pay rates for three years. Moreover, the Act declares that the ‘similar work’ is a composite of responsibilities, efforts, and skills as well as makes it possible for employees to be compared to others from different establishments. The Act also makes it very clear that any revenge against employees who try to enforce it, is illegal.
There is also a Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act apart from the Equal Pay Act, signed by US President Barack Obama in 2009, which disposes of the statute of limitation after receiving unfair pay. Even if the employee is no longer working for the company that made a discriminatory payment, they can still make a claim.
It is clear that there is still a lot of work ahead of us if we want to ensure Equal Pay between men and women, not only in Architecture but overall. I believe that loud discussions about the subject, not agreeing to discriminative treatment, and making a stand against inequality will continue to improve the situation little by little. Important changes take time and perseverance, however, as long as there is inequality, there are always voices to stand against it. Hopefully more and more of them each year.