Deborah Casale: Unconscious bias needs to be addressed to impact gender pay gap

It is hard to imagine how life will look in 100 years, but at the current rate of progress, we can expect that the UK will only just be closing its gender pay gap.

Organisations with more than 250 employees have been required to publish its gender pay gaps annually since April 2017, but the 2018 figures, to be published in April 2019, show that little has changed. Nor should we expect it to, without a significant amount of work aimed at addressing the root cause.

While the UK’s gender pay gap in 2017 was 9.7% overall, certain industries, including construction and financial services, reported almost double that figure. Many banks, such as RBS, Lloyds Bank and Goldman Sachs, pointed to the fact that there are fewer women in senior roles within the workforce. This is the fundamental problem.

Progress will only be achieved in financial services, and across all other sectors, by taking meaningful steps to support women in work, and by proactively and collectively addressing the deeply rooted unconscious bias and discrimination which creates the glass ceiling.

Some employers are using statistical analysis to try and tackle the problem, but this needs to be done at a very granular level and must be followed with action.

For example, Goldman Sachs commissioned some very detailed analysis in 2014, isolating the causative factors for pay disparity in its investment banking division. It subsequently introduced two training programmes: ‘Blindspot’, designed to help managers identify when unconscious thinking impacts decision making, and ‘Subtle and Significant’, which explores how everyday actions can reinforce or erode meritocracy in the workplace. Like many banks, Goldman Sachs has signed up to the UK Women in Finance Charter. This requires firms to publicly commit to supporting the progression of women by setting themselves targets to hit.

All of these actions are positive steps, but until employers create an environment where women can progress to senior roles, championed from the top down, it is unlikely that the gender pay gap will show any material decline.

The regulations are there to instil a cultural shift towards openness and to accelerate progress. A UK parliamentary committee is looking into its effectiveness, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission continues to work on an enforcement strategy. Ultimately, however, employers are accountable for their gender pay gap statistics and risk losing out on female talent if they fail to close the gap.

Deborah Casale is an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon