The Authority Gap

Published on September 21st, 2021

‘Mind the Gap’

It’s the famous automated safety phrase first introduced in 1968 on the London Underground in the UK.

Also introduced in the UK that year – The Race Relations Act 1968, an Act of the Parliament making it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins.

More than 50 years later, diversity and inclusion is still a huge issue with protected characteristics now listed as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

Social class is not currently on the list but there are growing calls for it to be included, with KPMG making headlines with a target of 29% of its partners and directors to come from working class backgrounds by 2030 and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) calling for laws on class discrimination.

If you prefer video over text, we made a short under 3 min video for you:

The Authority Gap

But what happens after the laws are introduced?

‘The Authority Gap’ is authored by former Times newspaper assistant editor and columnist Mary Ann Sieghart. 

It examines the challenges faced by women who have to work harder to be treated as seriously as men when it comes to competence and leadership, and the perceptions which ultimately affect who gets the top jobs. 

In the UK, the Equal Pay Act of 1970 forced employers to pay men and women equally for like or equal work.

Five years later, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975  made it unlawful for women (or men) to be treated less favourably because of their sex. 

And in 2017, an amendment to The Equality Act made it mandatory for British employers with more than 250 staff to report salary figures for their male and female employees. 

The outcomes reveal not only a gender pay gap, but an ageism pay gap, with women appearing to pay a maternity penalty over the age of 40, when they are more likely to have had children. 

  • The gender pay gap among all employees was 15.5% in 2020, down from 17.4% in 2019.
  • The gender pay gap remained close to zero for full-time employees aged under 40 years but was over 10% for older age groups.
  • Compared with lower-paid employees, higher earners experienced a much larger difference in hourly pay between the sexes.


And the discrimination is compounded even further by the intersectionality of racism and sexism. On average, Black women in the U.S. are paid 37% less than white men and 20% less than white women.

And as Sieghart discovers, despite all the legislation, monitoring and reporting around equality, in the end – authority, expertise and power,  is still attributed disproportionately to men. 

And not just by men. Women are guilty of it too. 

Implicit bias

Her book is an evidence-based study into the implicit bias and social conditioning which is behind discrimination.

‘The authority gap is the mother of all gender gaps. If women aren’t taken as seriously as men, they’re not going to be hired as readily, promoted as fast or paid as much as men,’ says Sieghart.

‘And the sort of behavior that the authority gap leads to – women being interrupted, talked over, underestimated, ignored and patronised – is bound to dent their confidence and make them feel less entitled to success.’

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant is the New York Times bestselling author of THINK AGAIN and host of the WorkLife podcast.

He shared that from 63 studies, women who assert their ideas, make direct requests, and advocate for themselves are liked less. They’re also less likely to get hired—and it hasn’t improved over time.

And the effects are far reaching – with long term negative outcomes for organizations.

Sieghart likens the effect to compound interest, with “an accumulation of small disadvantages” creating “a gaping difference in opportunity and achievement” over a lifetime.

The gap is also reflected financially. Over the course of the average Black woman’s career, the lost income adds up to almost a million dollars compared to white men.

And it’s not just a cost to the women who lose out. It’s proven that organizations with more inclusive, diverse workforces outperform their competitors by nearly 35%

Laws and more 

Michael Hassell is an Equality and Diversity Adviser at the University of Surrey.

He believes more needs to be done to challenge the status quo.

‘I am a diversity and inclusion specialist, I deliver unconscious bias training, I am a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion training. But the way to make sure diversity and inclusion training actually converts to the real world? You can’t be too relaxed about it, you need legislation and affirmative action.

‘Positive discrimination is controversial but in 1997, the Labour party introduced all women short lists and had 101 labour MPs elected to parliament. 

‘In Norway, they introduced 50:50 Boards, and in recent years, the percentage has shifted in favour of women and been challenged by men, and rightly so.’

Hassell says forward-thinking and progressive organizations which are truly committed to D&I should have such additional measures in place before they’re legally required. 

And then the challenge is making them effective.

How to fix it

So what can companies do? Hassell says training alone can’t work. It requires an ongoing long term commitment. Hassell offers five top tips. 

  • Training is important – make it mandatory 
  • Training must be continuous, repeat the messaging time and time again
  • Develop D&I advocates to speak up in your organization
  • Set up support networks (women, ethnic diversity, LGBTQ).
  • Be accountable to your customers. Reputation matters.

How can we help?

Country Navigator’s cultural diversity and inclusion training gives detailed and highly accurate analysis across parameters including explicit and implicit communication and individual and group identity.

Our coaches are experts at enabling constructive conversations and sensitive feedback to find solutions to learners’ real world cultural and inclusion challenges.

And ongoing access to training and coaching means learners get the chance to apply and practice their newfound skills until it becomes an automatic part of the way they think, work and interact with others. 

If you’d like support or information about Diversity & Inclusion training, please contact us.


Jess Carter is a journalist, communications consultant and media trainer with a background in live television news in the US and the UK.