Sexual equality survey homes in on six of City's biggest banks

Inquiry into pay differences between men and women in the Square Mile asks for detailed responses
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An inquiry into sex discrimination in the City launched by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) earlier in the year has largely focused on the practices of six banks in the Square Mile – Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Citi, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and UBS.

Most of the City's big firms have been asked to submit responses but the six are thought to have been asked to give more detailed replies than their peers. Submissions are to be made to the commission on 9 June with the report and its recommendations due to be published later this year.

The inquiry into pay differences between men and women began in March and is being led by Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the EHRC. Originally, submissions had been due by May, but the complexity of the questionnaires prompted an extension.

According to the commission, men working in full time jobs in the financial sector are paid, on average, nearly 40 per cent more than their female counterparts. For casual staff, the differential is as much as 50 per cent.

In 2007-08, 70 per cent of men in the finance arena earned more than £29,400, while 70 per cent of women earned less than £29,500. However, there are exceptions where many top women, particularly fund managers such as Katherine Garrett-Cox of Alliance Trust, earn at least as much as their male peers. Across Britain, the full-time gap between men and women is estimated to be around 17 per cent.

Equalities minister Harriet Harman recently condemned the financial industry as a "breeding ground for discrimination and unfairness". There are concerns in the Square Mile that Ms Harman could use legislation, contained in the recently passed Equality Bill, to force the appointment of more women into senior managerial roles in banks. Ms Harman has long been a critic of the City and its practices, dubbing pay levels and bonus awards in Square Mile as "excessive and ridiculous" in interviews.

In other City employment news, KPMG, the big four accountant, is turning its own internal scheme to reduce redundancies into a profit-making initiative. Clients have been impressed by KPMG's Flexible Futures scheme, which saw employees agree to a range of temporary changes to their terms and conditions, including a one-day reduction to the working week. Also, staff could take up to a 14-week sabbatical on reduced pay. David Knight, an associate partner in KPMG's people services group, said that 85 per cent of staff had agreed to the voluntary scheme.

"We have had hundreds of calls from clients asking us about the scheme," Mr Knight said. "Quite a lot of the discussions have been simply brief chats about what we've done, while other organisations are looking for support. We're talking to a number of companies about Flexible Futures and other cost reduction programmes."