A lack of confidence and knowledge about how to take action discourages women from challenging unequal pay, according to a new survey commissioned by Stewarts.

The survey of 2,000 working women in the UK reveals high earners believe they are more likely to experience gender inequality at work. The results show that younger and higher-paid women are more likely to raise grievances with an employer; and while almost half (48.6%) of women would be willing to file a complaint about unequal pay, many (39.1%) lack sufficient knowledge about how to take legal action.


Joseph Lappin, Head of Employment says: “Promoting women into senior roles is a key priority for businesses and there remains a lot of work for businesses to do in this regard. Our data shows that women in senior roles believe they are being paid less than their male counterparts. This is worrying. Employers will need to make sure that, unless a pay differential can be justified lawfully, they are not paying men in senior roles more than women performing the same work. If they do they may face equal pay claims.”

Charlie Thompson, partner in the Employment team adds: “It is sometimes easy to forget that employers do not want to be involved in discrimination disputes – meaning that the employee is often in a stronger position than they may think. An employee has the right to file a claim against their employer if they are not receiving equal pay for equivalent work compared to a colleague. Beyond safeguarding women from workplace discrimination, individuals undertaking a ‘protected act’ under the Equality Act 2010 gain additional protection against victimisation.”


Assessing women’s legal rights and workplace pay disputes

Overall, female higher earners expressed greater concern about being underpaid compared to their male colleagues – this was true for over a third (38.7%) amongst those earning over £75,000 annually, compared to just 18.4% of those earning less than £15,000.

Almost two thirds (59.8%) of respondents said they had never tried to negotiate their total compensation including bonus and, of those earning £75,000 or more, nearly half (45.3%) said they had never tried to negotiate pay. The main reason for over one third (38.3%) of respondents not negotiating was a lack of confidence in challenging an employer.

The research revealed that nearly half of respondents (48.6%) said that they would consider raising a complaint to their employer if they didn’t receive equal pay for their work in comparison to their male counterparts.

When it comes to the prospect of bringing legal action against an employer over unequal pay in the workplace, over one third (37.6%) of those surveyed said they would consider asserting their rights in the Employment Tribunal or courts. However, almost two fifths (39.1%) of respondents said they did not have sufficient knowledge about the legal process they should follow.

Overall, younger women were more willing to consider legal action, with 47.6% of 16-24 year olds claiming they would look into this, in comparison to just 21.8% of over 55s. Additionally, those earning over £75,000 were also more inclined to consider asserting their legal rights in the courts, with nearly half (45.6%) claiming they would do so, compared to only 28.6% of those earning between £45,000 and £55,000.

A third (33.1%) of British women are uncertain they are paid equally to their male colleagues. In assessing attitudes around negotiating pay, nearly a third (31.3%) of women surveyed said they were not comfortable discussing salary and remuneration with their co-workers.

The research for this report was conducted by Censuswide, among a sample of 2,008 employed women in the UK aged 16+ (minimum 500 respondents who earn £75,000+). The data was collected between 10/10/2023 and 16/10/2023.



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