Why you need more than data to close the gender pay gap

‘The UK’s gender pay gap has been highlighted year after year after year, yet here we are still lamenting its existence’ 

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The Independent Online

On Thursday, a new law came into play that will force UK companies with more than 250 employees to publish data about their gender pay gap. The legislation will affect around 9,000 companies and is already poised to have a massive impact on gender pay disparity in the UK.

Personally I welcome the change. Despite its many positive attributes, the tech industry, where I work, is one that’s been plagued with gender inequality issues for decades.

In fact, data from recruitment company Hired’s recent Equal Pay Day report found that women are paid 9 per cent less than their male colleagues in the tech industry – the equivalent of £5,000 a year on average. And in two of every three instances where a man and woman are offered the same role at the same company, the woman is offered less.

But the gender pay gap doesn’t only stem from women being paid less than men for the same work – many aren’t being given the opportunity to do that work in the first place.

Women returning from maternity leave earn a third less than men, according to a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and many are pressured into leaving high-paid jobs thanks to a lack of flexible work hours.

Sadly statistics like this don’t seem to shock people anymore. But what should shock and sadden you is this: the UK’s gender pay gap has been highlighted year after year after year, yet here we are still lamenting its existence. For all the research and rhetoric, nothing has really changed.

So the question now is: will this proposed law actually work?

It might effectively embarrass some businesses into giving gender pay disparity the attention it deserves. What it can’t do, however, is tell us whether they’re quietly discriminating against women.

In a recent survey of women in Silicon Valley, 75 per cent of respondents said they had been asked about family life, marital status or children in an interview, while another 40 per cent felt the need to speak less about family in order to be taken seriously.

Perhaps the worst indictment of Silicon Valley culture, however, is more than half of respondents shortening their maternity leave for fear it would negatively impact their career.

There are wider societal issues at play here, and closing the gender pay gap needs more than just data and discourse. Workplace technology has evolved to the point where you can be both a great parent and employee. All we need now is for attitudes to evolve with it.

Part of that comes down to limiting the influence of conscious and unconscious biases in the interview and compensation process. Biases have played a large role in the creation of the gender pay gap, and until we remove those biases we won’t be able to close it.

One way to achieve this is by using a data-led approach to compensation that bases someone’s pay on the market value for their skills and experience rather than what they were previously making.

This approach is particularly effective in ensuring pay equality for women, who are often less likely to negotiate or less likely to be successful when they do, and whose previous salaries may be negatively impacted by bias.

Equally important is training anyone who has a say in hiring and salary decisions to understand unconscious bias – when it can happen, why, and how to make sure it doesn’t.

We have already seen some promising developments – our research shows that when female jobseekers in the tech industry do ask for the same as their male counterparts, they get it. The onus is primarily on companies to ensure that they are paying both genders fairly, of course, but this finding underscores the importance of helping women understand and ask for their worth in order to help close the gap.

Let me be clear: the new legislation is a positive step. But it is just that: a single step towards a goal that requires many more. And we should let neither government nor private sector get away with leaving it there. 

Mehul Patel is the chief executive officer of job search marketplace Hired