Addressing the Gender Pay Gap: Potential Next Steps

Addressing the Gender Pay Gap: Potential Next Steps

Lauren Fox

The gender pay gap remains a significant problem despite attempts to increase transparency through pay gap reporting. The Equality Trust argues that these measures have not led to concrete action, drawing particular attention to the 178.7% increase in the gender bonus gap between 2017 and 2020.[1] This article will analyse three potential steps to more tangible action: minimum wage laws, proportionate pay, and revaluing care work. Minimum wage laws are an effective method of providing immediate relief, despite being unsuited to structural change. Whilst proportionate pay may be particularly suited to addressing the gender bonus gap, it may nevertheless result in practical difficulties, potentially reinforcing traditional stereotypes. It is therefore argued that revaluing care work is the most desirable long-term strategy, as it can lead to increased pay for sectors involving paid provision of care, whilst also adapting the workplace to accommodate unpaid caring responsibilities.

Minimum wage laws

Increasing the national minimum wage, when combined with effective enforcement to protect precarious workers, would be an easily-implemented method of decreasing the pay gap. Since the majority of precarious workers are women,[2] and women are over-represented in low-paying jobs,[3] this would make a measurable improvement to the lives of working women. Moreover, this approach has strategic benefits for campaigning/ activism, as focusing on improvements to pre-existing institutions rather than broader systemic change allows feminists to “operate within prevailing political discourse”.[4]

Despite this, increasing the minimum wage will only create significant benefits if wage policies themselves are non-discriminatory[5] – it cannot solve the issue of job segregation, either within or between sectors. Moreover, this approach is unable to counter the substantial gender bonus gap outlined above, meaning that whilst parity in the basic rate of pay may be achieved, significant inequalities in take-home pay may persist. 

Proportionate pay

Currently, the UK gender pay gap framework can identify disproportionate pay through setting out the pay structure within an organisation, since companies provide the gender distribution across pay quartiles.[6] However, in order to enact substantive change, legislative reform is necessary to enforce a requirement for proportionate pay, which is particularly important given the gender bonus gap. This may be especially suited to cases involving different tiers of leadership positions, with more senior positions (which are most commonly held by men) being paid disproportionately higher salaries. This allows legal protection to go beyond the current framework under Equality Act 2010, which requires that A’s work is either (a) like B’s work, (b) equivalent to B’s work, or (c) of equal value to B’s work.[7]

However, practical difficulties may arise when implementing this approach as courts may struggle to determine precisely what is meant by the subjective term ‘disproportionate’. In making this assessment, courts may be influenced by current social stereotypes concerning the relative ‘worth’ of different jobs, such as through unintentionally replicating the current undervaluation of care work, thus not fulfilling its potential transformative impact. 

Revaluing care work

The key strength of an approach centred around revaluing care work is its ability to address the root cause of sectoral segregation. This is clearly demonstrated by the European Commission’s research, which states that “around 24% of the gender pay gap is related to the overrepresentation of women in relatively low-paying sectors, such as care, health and education”.[8] Fredman argues that caring responsibilities should be recognised as “primary values in themselves”.[9] This would result in the workplace being adapted to accommodate women’s caring responsibilities, as opposed to neglecting them “under the guise of respect for individual choice”.[10]

In addition to accommodating women’s unpaid caring roles, revaluing care work would also lead to higher salaries for paid employees, benefitting the disproportionate number of women in case-based sectors. This is particularly relevant following the pandemic, with women forming up to two-thirds of the global health workforce, yet being underrepresented in leadership roles.[11] This approach is therefore desirable in the long-term as it would benefit women who perform both paid and unpaid work, and aims to solve the underlying reasons behind sectoral segregation. 


In conclusion, all three methods outlined above are able to address the gender pay gap to varying extents, with revaluing care work ultimately leading to the most successful form of long-term change. Whilst increasing the minimum wage has practical and strategic benefits, and proportionate pay may address deeper structural issues, both are limited in their impact. In contrast, revaluing care work is able to provide benefits in terms of both paid and unpaid care – workplaces would be remodelled to accommodate unpaid care provision, whilst paid employees would receive better compensation for their work. 

[1] The Equality Trust, ‘UK gender pay gap reporting 2017 – 2020: patterns and progress’ (September 2020)

[2] Sandra Fredman, Women at Work: The Broken Promise of Flexicurity (2004) 33 Industrial Law Journal 299, 300.


[4] Vanessa Munro, Law and Politics at the Perimeter: Re-Evaluating Key Debates in Feminist Theory (Oxford: Hart 2007) 15.


[6] Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017

[7] s.65(1) Equality Act 2010

[8] European Commission, ‘The Gender pay gap situation in the EU’  

[9] Sandra Fredman, ‘Discrimination’ in Mark Tushnet and Peter Cane (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Legal Studies (OUP 2004), 218. 

[10] Sandra Fredman, ‘Discrimination’ in Mark Tushnet and Peter Cane (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Legal Studies (OUP 2004), 218.

[11] Queisser M et al, ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality in Europe’  (2021), 249.