When pay secrecy thrives in the workplace, so can pay discrimination

Equal Pay

Campaigning charity the Fawcett Society has joined forces with employment law charity YESS Law and former BBC China Editor Carrie Gracie to launch a new Equal Pay Advice Service on the eve of this year’s Equal Pay Day.


Equal Pay Day on November 10th, is the day in the year when women effectively start to work for free – a symbolic calendar reflection on the pay disparity between the genders.


The new service will be targeted at those on low incomes who believe they are experiencing pay discrimination and who do not have access to the legal advice that can enable them to resolve the situation with their employer.

Co-founder Carrie Gracie is no stranger to pay discrimination, having been involved in a high-profile Equal Pay dispute with the BBC when she resigned as its China editor in January 2018. She had made the move after finding out the BBC's two male international editors earned "at least 50% more" than their two female counterparts.

In June, the BBC apologised to Gracie for underpaying her and agreed to give her back pay – which she has since used to set up the Equal Pay Advice Service fund.

“The fight for equal pay often pits a lone woman against a very powerful employer. Without the support of other BBC Women and without great legal advice, I would have struggled to get through my own equal pay ordeal” says Gracie.

“Many women in other workplaces have since told me about their feelings of loneliness and helplessness in confronting pay discrimination. I feel particularly concerned about low paid women who may not be able to afford legal advice, and I hope support from our new Equal Pay Advice Service will help give them the confidence to pursue their rights.”

Research by the Fawcett Society highlights the work that is still needed to shine a light into the opaque culture around Equal Pay, something which allows disparity and discrimination to flourish, according to Fawcett Society Chief Executive, Sam Smethers.

“In workplaces all over the country, pay discrimination is able to thrive and is more common than people realise because of a culture of pay secrecy which persists. People do not know their basic rights and do not know what their colleagues earn,” she says.

Nearly 50 years after the Equal Pay Act came into force, the Society found that 1 in 3 men (35%) and women (33%) in work do not know that it is illegal to pay women and men differently for equal work – and when questioned, six out of ten (61%) workers said they would be uncomfortable asking a colleague how much they earn.

Over 60% of workers said they were unaware that they have a legal right to have conversations with colleagues about pay if they think they are being discriminated against because of their gender and three in 10 (31%) believe their contracts ban people from talking to each other about pay, despite this being legally unenforceable.

Emma Webster, Joint CEO of YESS Law says, “Access to expert legal advice is crucial so that women understand their position and are empowered to raise the issue of Equal Pay. Most people want to keep their job and maintain a good relationship with their employer whilst also being paid equally.”

The charities hope that the Equal Pay Advice Service will be another important step onward toward a fairer pay culture and are calling on people to be a part of their campaign to fight pay disparity by taking ‘3 steps to #GetEqual’ this Equal Pay Day.

The first is to talk to colleagues and be bold enough to ask what they earn, to help end the culture of pay secrecy that can work to the benefit of employers. The second, to highlight the fund and the issue of pay secrecy by sharing an equals sign on social media and #GetEqual #EqualPayDay, and thirdly to donate to the Equal Pay Fund via the dedicated GoFundMe page if possible in order to be able to help even more women on low incomes access legal advice and claim their rights.


If you need access to expert legal help around the issue of equal pay and pay discrimination you can apply for the Equal Pay Fund at www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/equal-pay-advice-service