In order to effectively combat the problem of unequal pay for the same work, it is necessary to think more deeply about the reasons behind the gender pay gap. This complex problem affects both the UK and, to varying degrees, the whole world.

Let’s dive into this issue, its reasons and possible solutions.

What is the gender pay gap in the UK

Gender pay gap is a complicated and persistent problem that affects millions of people, not only in the UK, but around the world. This is not just the issue of unequal pay for equal work, but rather a complex issue that finds its roots in social norms, gender roles, and cultural prejudice.

We would love to think that this is a problem of the past. Although the whole problem of the gender pay gap has been debated for decades, it is still a major issue today, in the 21st century.

The differences in pay for the same work between men and women in the UK has been a topic of discussion for many years. It is true that the UK government is taking steps to actively reduce the gender pay gap, but the problem still exists.

A study published by the BBC says that across all employment sectors in the UK, as many as 80% employers pay men more than women on average.


“80% employers in the UK pay men more than women on average”

As reported by the Office for National Statistics, the median gender pay gap in the UK has narrowed from 17% in 1997 to 9.4% today, in 2023.

This represents a noticeable but still insufficient improvement over the past few decades.

What is interesting is that at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, in 2019-2020, the average pay gap increased slightly, but managed to return to its previous level.

When we speak about the median gender pay gap, what we mean is the difference between the average salary of a man and the average salary of a woman.

Moreover, the gender pay gap is not the only problem. As the Office of National Statistics says, there is additionally the issue of the gender pension gap. As women are paid a lower salary, they consequently have lower pension savings, which, in addition to a longer life expectancy, translates into a lower financial standard in late age compared to men.

You're probably wondering if this problem only affects specific sectors.

Unfortunately, no. Figures for this year show that all UK sectors pay women less than men.


Reasons behind the gender pay gap

There are several factors that contribute to the gender pay gap in the UK.

Transparency issues

One of the main reasons is the lack of transparency. It is only since 2017 that companies with more than 250 employees have been required to provide data on the gender pay gap.

Smaller companies do not have to do this at all, but more and more are choosing to do so voluntarily.

Uneven opportunities

Another big reason behind this state of affairs is the unequal distribution of employment opportunities. Statistically, women are more likely to work in the public sector, where wages are lower than in the private sector. In addition, many jobs in the service sector, where wages are lower, are held by women. Unfortunately, women are still less likely to hold managerial positions, which significantly affects their pay.

Cultural bias

Yet another reason for the gender pay gap is the existence of the so-called ‘glass ceiling’. This is a phenomenon where women face invisible barriers that make it difficult for them to advance to higher positions. This is influenced, for example, by differences in the perception of women in the workplace, ingrained stereotypes and prejudices.

Women are often discriminated against on the basis of age, appearance or marital status, which affects their chances of promotion.

An example of such discrimination is the preference for men in managerial positions.

Career breaks

Women are more likely to experience gaps in employment due to maternity leave or caring for family members, for example children or elderly parents. These breaks can be significant, ranging from a few months even to several years.

These career breaks cause many women to miss out on training and development opportunities that otherwise could help them with their career progression. This, in turn, can result in shortages in experience or skills, making it much more difficult for these women to re-enter the labour market.

How to close the gender pay gap

gender pay gap

Is it even possible? Turns out that yes - but it’s not an easy task!

But to tackle the gender pay gap, it is necessary to work at the source of the problem. We need to introduce changes at the cultural, structural, and legal levels. It's a hard and complex process, but it has to start somewhere. Fortunately, the UK government also sees this problem and is trying to address it with the introduction of the Gender Equality Roadmap. This document sets out a comprehensive plan to promote gender equality and address the challenges that women face in the UK. It emphasises the importance of a public commitment to promoting gender equality in all aspects of society.

“To tackle the gender pay gap, it is necessary to work at the source of the problem”

Here are some of the ways that can help to redress wage inequality and close the gender pay gap:

  • Promoting gender equality

    This is something that should be introduced from an early age. Let's teach children that we are all equal and that although we are different, we deserve the same respect and the same opportunities. Schools, workplaces, and the media should promote gender equality and provide equal opportunities.

  • Equal opportunities in leadership positions

    Employers should introduce gender-neutral recruitment and focus on candidates' qualifications and skills, rather than their gender, age, or potential maternity. Establishing promotion systems based purely on performance and competence can help to shatter the 'glass ceiling'.

  • Increasing wages in the public sector

    Increasing pay in the public sector, where statistically more women work, can also help to narrow the gender pay gap. Most of the female-dominated professions, such as care, nursing, or teaching, are underpaid.

  • Improving work-life balance

    Women often have greater gaps in their work due to maternity and family care. In addition to their work, they often carry the responsibility of caring for children and elderly family members, which affects their career opportunities and earnings. Employment gaps and the hardship of parenting can translate into problems with re-entering the labour market or being promoted to higher positions.

    Introducing flexible working hours, remote work and sufficient parental leave can help to improve work-life balance and level the gender pay gap in the labour market.

Gender pay gap in the UK vs the world

The gender pay gap is not just a UK problem. In fact, it’s a global one. Of course, the gender pay gap varies from country to country, but many have the same causes. These include cultural biases, lack of adequate representation in leadership positions, and unequal development opportunities.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, the UK ranks 22nd out of 146 countries in terms of the gender pay gap.

Here’s the full ranking:

  1. Iceland
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  4. New Zealand
  5. Sweden
  6. Namibia
  7. Rwanda
  8. Nicaragua
  9. Lithuania
  10. Ireland
  11. Germany
  12. Switzerland
  13. Costa Rica
  14. Spain
  15. Belgium
  16. France
  17. Moldova
  18. Albania
  19. Philippines
  20. Serbia
  21. South Africa
  22. United Kingdom
  23. Austria
  24. Burundi
  25. Portugal
  26. United States
  27. Netherlands
  28. Canada
  29. Latvia
  30. Barbados
  31. Mexico
  32. Denmark
  33. Argentina
  34. Belarus
  35. Mozambique
  36. Jamaica
  37. Guyana
  38. Peru
  39. Panama
  40. Slovenia
  41. Ecuador
  42. Australia
  43. Luxembourg
  44. Bulgaria
  45. Cape Verde
  46. Suriname
  47. Madagascar
  48. Chile
  49. Zimbabwe
  50. Singapore
  51. Bolivia
  52. Estonia
  53. Laos
  54. Montenegro
  55. Georgia
  56. Timor-Leste
  57. Kenya
  58. Eswatini
  59. El Salvador
  60. Israel
  61. Uganda
  62. Zambia
  63. Italy
  64. Tanzania
  65. Kazakhstan
  66. Botswana
  67. Slovakia
  68. United Arab Emirates
  69. North Macedonia
  70. Mongolia
  71. Bangladesh
  72. Uruguay
  73. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  74. Ethiopia
  75. Colombia
  76. Czech Republic
  77. Poland
  78. Liberia
  79. Thailand
  80. Paraguay
  81. Ukraine
  82. Honduras
  83. Vietnam
  84. Dominican Republic
  85. Malta
  86. Kyrgyzstan
  87. Lesotho
  88. Hungary
  89. Armenia
  90. Romania
  91. Togo
  92. Indonesia
  93. Cyprus
  94. Brazil
  95. Belize
  96. Nepal
  97. Cameroon
  98. Cambodia
  99. South Korea
  100. Greece
  101. Azerbaijan
  102. China
  103. Malaysia
  104. Brunei Darussalam
  105. Mauritius
  106. Myanmar
  107. Fiji
  108. Ghana
  109. Sierra Leone
  110. Sri Lanka
  111. Vanuatu
  112. Senegal
  113. Guatemala
  114. Tajikistan
  115. Burkina Faso
  116. Japan
  117. Maldives
  118. Guinea
  119. Lebanon
  120. Tunisia
  121. Gambia
  122. Jordan
  123. Nigeria
  124. Turkey
  125. Angola
  126. Bhutan
  127. Saudi Arabia
  128. Niger
  129. Egypt
  130. Kuwait
  131. Bahrain
  132. Malawi
  133. Ivory Coast
  134. Comoros
  135. India
  136. Morocco
  137. Qatar
  138. Benin
  139. Oman
  140. Algeria
  141. Mali
  142. Chad
  143. Iran
  144. DR Congo
  145. Pakistan
  146. Afghanistan

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As you can notice, the smallest gender pay gap is found in Iceland.

“UK ranks 22nd out of 146 countries in the gender pay gap ranking”

Iceland has been introducing steps to bring equality to its society for many years. These steps include investing in education and training programmes which aim to help women enter and success in male-dominated fields. Providing equal development opportunities helps their earning potential and contributes to narrowing the gender pay gap.

In addition, there are public awareness campaigns, as well as strong laws on equality and against discrimination.

Further behind Iceland, we have Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden in the ranking.

These are the countries that have made significant advancements in promoting gender equality in the workplace.

At the bottom of the ranking, the countries with the largest gender pay gap are Iran, DR Congo, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In these countries women face significant challenges to accessing work and are often paid significantly less than men for the same work.

In the UK women earned on average 15.5% less per hour than men in 2020, although for full-time workers the gap was slightly smaller at 7.5%, while in the US in 2021 women earned 18% less than men.

According to data published by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency in May 2023, the gender pay gap in Australia is at 22.8%. Germany however reports that the current gender pay gap is 18%, but varies by industry and region.

Gender pay gap in the UK - Takeaways

  • A gender pay gap is when there is an inequality in how much men and women earn on average in the workplace.
  • Currently in 2023, the median gender pay gap across all reporting companies is 9.4%.
  • Women have lower pension savings, resulting in a lower financial standard in late age compared to men.
  • Among the reasons behind the gender pay gap are lack of transparency, unequal distribution of employment opportunities, ‘glass ceiling’ phenomenon and discrimination against women based on age, appearance, or marital status.
  • Gender pay gap can be reduced by promoting gender equality from an early age, introducing gender-neutral recruitment and promotion systems based purely on performance and competence, increasing pay in the public sector, where statistically more women work, introducing flexible working hours, remote work and promoting healthy work-life balance.


The problem of the gender pay gap is a global issue that we have been facing practically forever. Nowadays, it is time to abandon old stereotypes and biases and get down to closing the gender gap in the workplace.

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Jagoda Obszarska

Senior Content Editor, SEO Content Writer

Meet Jagoda Obszarska – a certified copywriter, Polish language translator, and seasoned career adviser. Thriving on constant self-improvement, she eagerly stays ahead in her field. With a rich background working with individuals from over 50 countries, Jagoda has successfully completed more than a thousand projects in copywriting and translation.

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