Julie Mellor, Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, has called for an end to the 'conspiracy of silence' about pay discrimination in the City.
The national gap between women's and men's average full-time hourly pay is 19 per cent. The gap varies in different sectors and is at its widest in banking, insurance and pension provision where it stands at 46 per cent.
"The conspiracy of silence about pay and bonuses that is still so common in the City allows discrimination to fester below the surface. Mellor told the City Women's Network (CWN) annual dinner.
The Network was founded in 1978 by a group of American and English women working in senior roles in London's Square Mile. Predominantly bankers, accountants and lawyers they found themselves isolated in male-dominated areas and set out to form a peer network for women in the City.
Recent EOC research found that more than a fifth of employers (22 per cent) do not allow employees to share information about their pay with colleagues. It also revealed that only 18 per cent of large employers and 10 per cent of medium-sized employers have done a pay review or are in the process of doing one. The majority (54 per cent of large and 67 per cent of medium-sized employers) do not plan to do a pay review at all, despite government backing for the EOC's call for action.
But in a high-profile case earlier this year, Louise Barton, a media analyst, successfully challenged a tribunal's decision that secrecy about pay was 'a vital component of city bonus culture'.
Supported by the EOC, she brought the claim because her basic pay and her bonus were lower than that of her male colleagues, although she claimed she was bringing in as much or more revenue for the firm.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal in Louise Barton's case ruled on 3 April that: "no Tribunal should be seen to condone a City bonus culture involving secrecy and/or lack of transparency because of the potentially large amounts involved, as a reason for avoiding equal pay obligations."
"Now it's down to individual employers within the City to take that decision on board and to sort out their own pay systems. Mellor told the CWN.
Anne de Suiza, an Independent Financial Adviser and President of CWN, confirmed that pay discrimination is still alive and well in the City. "One of our members, a senior manager in a well-known international bank here, still earns substantially less than her deputy, who happens to be a man.
But many women are afraid that they will loose their jobs if they speak out about unequal pay, she says. In these days of redundancies, she doesn't dare say anything as she's sure she'd be out of a job. When you have a family to support, you just can't afford to take that sort of risk."