Gender pay gap reporting won't change anything – here's what will really achieve workplace equality

Nearly eight in 10 firms pay men more on average than they pay women, and quite a few of them don’t think that’s anything to worry about

James Moore
Thursday 05 April 2018 15:46
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The gender pay gap explained

With gender pay gap deadline day having passed, what next?

It looks like miscreants – those companies that have flouted a legal requirement they’ve known about for years – can expect a telling off at first.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is in charge of enforcement, has been at pains to stress the fact that the employers that missed the cut off now have the status of law breakers.

But, at least in the first instance, backsliders won’t endure any more legal sanction than a letter that says “oi” together with a black mark against their names that can be held against them in future.

Britain has long had a liking for putting corporate baddies on the naughty step in preference to lining them up for the punishment detail, even when they blatantly thumb their noses at the law of the land. So, same old, same old.

The problem with that approach? It’s almost inevitable that backsliders when it comes to reporting will be backsliders when it comes to addressing the very obvious issue that the exercise has thrown up: women in the workplace are second class citizens.

Nearly eight in 10 firms pay men more on average than they pay women, and quite a few of them don’t think that’s anything to worry about.

By law they are supposed to get the same pay for the same job – although this isn’t always the case, and particularly if you look at bonuses. What the figures show is that the really good ones, the ones with the real money, are still being (mostly) reserved for the boys.

It might be even worse than it looks given the evidence of statistical finagling on the part of at least some reporting institutions.

Regardless, we’ve been treated to an awful lot of excuses.

One thing to draw from that, from the attempts at cheating, from the way some firms hit the deadline but left it late in the hopes of avoiding the spotlight by so doing, is that they’re embarrassed by what the figures reveal.

So they should be. Anyone who gives a damn about the concept of fairness should be furious about what they reveal.

Are employers embarrassed enough to do something about it? Perhaps in some cases they are.

Boots has an overwhelmingly female workforce, but a gender pay gap all the same thanks to the preponderance of men in the best paying roles. While it trotted out some excuses for that – eg software engineers tend to be men and those roles pay more – it was also at pains to stress measures it says it has been taking to tackle its pay problem; an enhanced maternity package, more flexible working etc.

There are other things businesses like it could now consider. They could invest in training women to do the well-paid jobs in which there is a dearth of them. They could poke the headhunters who are often inexplicably given the sole responsibility for creating shortlists to fill the top roles. They could recognise that keeping people at their desks for hours on end doesn’t lend itself to productivity.

Exercises like this that involve naming and shaming can yield results because they encourage those left red faced at the end to ponder ideas like those I’ve mentioned, and to prioritise an issue that might not even have previously been on their radars.

The exercise has certainly got people talking alongside the reporting. It has also got them thinking. Future reporting might reveal the results of that, while further exposing the inevitable long tail of ostrich like behaviour.

In that respect the exercise has been worthwhile.

A future case or two against foot draggers could enhance its value still further.

The next step? We need to do the same thing with ethnicity and disability. This should be just the beginning.

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