Since October 2017, when the New York Times first published details of decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein, a steady stream of further allegations flowed concerning Weinstein and other prominent public figures.
The result was not just column inches for newspapers but the empowerment of those who now feel able to speak out and a new zeitgeist where society is now listening to and supporting victims and taking issue with alleged perpetrators, no matter how famous or powerful. Whilst instant condemnation or "trial by media” is not a positive outcome, a new openness in which these issues can be aired certainly is.
The momentum shows no sign of abating, the 75th Golden Globes were eclipsed by attendees wearing black in solidarity with the ‘Time's Up' movement. Created by a number of actresses and female directors, agents and writers, the movement is calling for an end to sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace, and provides a fund to subsidise legal support for those who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
Gender parity in the workplace is by no means an issue exclusive to Hollywood; it transcends geography, industry and sectors. In the UK, it has been almost half a century since female Ford machinists went on strike to demand equal pay for equal work (which is widely credited as the catalyst for the subsequent introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970) and yet, in 2017, the national median gender pay gap for all workers (including full-time and part-time staff) was still 18.4%.
In an effort to address pay inequality, the government introduced the Gender Pay Gap Reporting Regulations last year which require employers with 250 or more employees to publish gender pay information by no later than 4 April 2018 (or 30 March 2018 for public sector employers). However, significant gaps are already apparent from figures published to date. For example, it was recently reported that the hourly rate of pay of female employees at EasyJet is 51.7% lower than their male counterparts, and is 64.8% lower at the fashion retailer Phase Eight.
The BBC’s average gender pay gap is 10.7%, and its pay disparity prompted its China Editor, Carrie Gracie, to resign from her position in protest of unequal pay. In her open letter to television licence payers, reported on 8 January 2018, she declared that ‘enough was enough’ and explained that male international editors were paid 50% more than she was paid. Her point is not that she wants to be paid more, but that she wants to be valued, and paid, equally to her male colleagues, whatever that figure may be.
It is worth noting that there is currently no clear enforcement mechanism or penalties under the Regulations where an employer fails to publish the required information, nor any mechanism to audit the veracity of information published. It is unlikely that the proposed enforcement strategy from the Equality and Human Rights Commission would have a significant impact on effectively enforcing the Regulations or result in the issuing of penalties. Neither is there any mechanism to deal with the pay disparity the information reveals - it is left to employers to voluntarily 'do the right thing' or to individual employees to bring equal pay claims. Yet the information provided, whilst highlighting that something may be wrong, will not provide sufficient detail to assist most women with such claims. Gender Pay Gap Reporting is clearly supporting a movement which is determined to shine a spotlight on the inequalities between men and women in the workplace, but of itself it is not enough to bring about the change, and at the pace, that is required.
In recognition of the growing global movement towards gender parity, the chosen theme for this year's International Women's Day, which will take place on 8 March 2018, is 'Press for Progress', a further reminder that harassment and inequality are serious issues which continue to flow and remain very much on the global agenda. It is evident that progress is no longer hoped for, it is expected.