"Happy" Equal Pay Day, Brits! In the UK, this is the date when the 17.48 percent pay gap between men and women means that women are essentially working for free from now until the end of the year. By this day, men have already earned what the typical woman will earn for the whole year. (If you're an English man, I imagine this seems like a great excuse for a long vacation right about now). It's similar to Equal Pay Day in the United States, that day in April when American women finally make what a comparable man made the year before. However, there's one key difference: Women in the UK generally are more equal to their male counterparts than we are in the States. Our wage gap is also a little larger, at 17.91 percent.
To be clear, the British wage gap is only slightly smaller than the American one, and Britain is far from an equal rights utopia. For instance, child care on average costs more in the UK than it dos here. But they also are ahead of us in several important ways — and on a day where they're bemoaning how far they have to go, hopefully they can take some comfort in the fact that they're farther along than we are in the States. Here are some key things America can learn from the UK when it comes to gender equality.
1. The UK has better maternal leave policies.
Only nine countries in the world do not guarantee paid maternity leave: Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Suriname and Tonga. Oh, and the United States.
2. We've never had a woman president, and the UK has more female representatives in politics.
The UK had Margaret Thatcher, of course — plus a pretty robust history of being led by powerful woman monarchs. Even if it's only symbolic, I have to imagine that regularly seeing women in positions of authority, throughout history, makes a difference. Plus, there's the fact that as a percentage, there are more women in Parliament (29.4 percent) than there are in the Senate and House of Representatives (19.4 percent).
This is only true in England, Scotland, and Wales; in Northern Ireland, abortion is illegal. So obviously, even in the UK there is still a long way to go for abortion rights. Still, compare that to the United States, where many private insurance plans don't cover abortion and our public health insurance can't cover it by law. In fact, in this country, it's illegal for tax money to be used in any way in any way to help women cover the costs of this expensive procedure except in cases of rape, incest, or where it's necessary to save the mother's life.
This law is brand new, so who knows if it will have any effect yet: In companies with more than 250 employees in Britain, they have to publicly disclose the average salaries of male and female employees. The hope is that this openness will put pressure on companies to raise women's salaries and to consider them for more promotions. If nothing else, it's an excellent first step.