Pay inequality in the public company: are law's internal walls part of the problem?

Presentation by Roseanne Russell, Lecturer, Cardiff Law School, UK.

Open for all interested.



Despite decades of statutory intervention to address gender pay inequality, there persists a significant difference in the earnings of men and women. This pay gap is most acute in the private sector in which public companies dominate economically and politically. The rigidity of law’s external walls has long been regarded as a factor in continuing pay inequality. A common criticism of regulatory approaches to unequal pay has been their failure to capture adequately the empirical reality of a highly gendered labour market and their continued adherence to the autonomous legal subject who may contract freely. While not denying the need to look beyond law’s external walls and engage other organisational, societal and political actors to achieve sincere change, this paper extends the debate by suggesting that the effect of internal legal walls has, so far, been missing from the discussion. It argues that framing unequal pay as a matter of labour and/or anti-discrimination law addresses only one half of the problem; how company law’s commitment to the postulate of ‘shareholder value’ may be implicated has not been explored. This paper attempts to fill that gap. Its central hypothesis is that the competitive agenda fostered by an uncritical commitment to shareholder value moulds an inherently masculinist ‘ideal worker’ culminating in an earnings penalty for women who are unable to fit this mould. This paper argues for the need to overcome law’s internal walls by looking critically at company law as a site for the promotion of unequal pay. This requires freeing the company from the doctrinally unsound commitment to shareholder value and transcending the limited rhetoric of ‘corporate social responsibility’. It concludes by suggesting that such a revised, communitarian vision of the company might go some way to contribute towards attempts to achieve pay equality.

About Roseanne Russell

Roseanne is a visiting researcher at Department of Private Law from 10 October to 20 November 2016.

She is a Lecturer in Law at Cardiff University where she teaches and researches company law and employment law.  Before entering academia, she spent a number of years in practice as a lawyer and is a member of the Law Society of England and Wales Employment Law Committee.

Roseanne's particular research interests lie in the participation and representation of women in corporations. During her stay, Roseanne will be working with the Companies, Markets, Society and Environment Research Group on a research project exploring the current interest of companies in 'gender diversity' and how companies are influencing meanings of gender equality. 


We will serve coffee, tea and fresh fruit. Bring your lunch packet!


Published Oct. 18, 2016 10:07 AM - Last modified Oct. 18, 2016 10:07 AM