The UK will try to close the gender salary gap by having big companies disclose their pay discrepancies

Trading up.
Trading up.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Winning
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Women in the UK are getting a pretty good deal, by international standards. Sure, they’re still paid almost 10% less than men for the same full-time work. But that looks rosy next to the US, where women’s pay is 18% lower (pdf) than their male counterparts.

Ok, actually neither situation is ideal. And David Cameron, the UK’s prime minister, today (July 14) said that his government wants to help rectify the situation by forcing large companies to disclose the extent to which they underpay women compared with men.

Companies with more than 250 employees will be subject to “gender pay audits” from the second half of 2016, a statement from Number 10 said.

The idea is not new—rather, it implements a section of an act passed in 2010. Cameron said that making sure the audits actually happen will “cast sunlight on the discrepancies and create the pressure we need for change, driving women’s wages up.”

The gap between women’s and men’s pay in both the UK and the US has been shrinking very gradually over the years since records began. But in both countries it’s still large. In the US, women in 2013 saw median weekly earnings of $706 for full-time work, compared to $860 for men.

In the UK, the gap between women’s pay—calculated as median hourly income excluding overtime—and men’s narrowed to 9.4% in 2014, the closest the two figures have ever crept.

But comparing women’s and men’s work is hard, notes the UK’s Office for National Statistics. Men tend to work more overtime and more hours overall than women. Women are more likely to be employed for fewer weekly hours. Taking into account part-time work as well, the UK pay gap is much greater: 19.1%. Other unpaid work that women do is not taken into consideration, and if it were would likely increase the gap still further.

In this context, the publication of gender pay gaps by some firms is a small step. But at least it’s in the right direction.