Louise’s lowdown: Closing the gender pay gap requires a multi-pronged approach

Louise Fordham Headshot 2016

In its Gender pay reporting survey, published in June 2016, Mercer asked organisations to list concerns about the implications of the gender pay reporting requirements in order of priority. The concerns that most frequently ranked in respondents’ top three all revolve around risk in some form: reputational risk (61%), equal pay cases (41%), and publication in the government’s gender pay reporting league tables (39%). Just 12% of respondents say they have no or few concerns.

The regulations, which are expected to be enacted later this year, will require employers with more than 250 employees to publish gender pay and bonus gap data, which they will also need to feature on their websites. From 2018, the government will also publish gender pay gap league tables by sector. The mandatory reporting regulations are one of the methods by which the government aims to “end the gender pay gap in a generation”.

Yet some fear that the regulations will not have the hoped-for effect, and that they will instead become a compliance exercise that results in the publication of figures that may be misunderstood or that may not adequately reflect the pay landscape, or the forces that are shaping it, within an organisation. After all, there are wider socio-economic issues behind the gender pay gap that cannot be resolved through regulation on employers alone.

Some of these factors kick in before we even reach the workforce; Halifax’s latest Pocket money survey, published in June 2016, found that boys receive £6.93 of pocket money a week on average, while girls receive £6.16. And, in a rather disturbing pre-shadowing of the cultural framework and attitudes that can serve as road blocks to eliminating the gender pay gap and women’s progression in the workplace, 44% of boys think they deserve to be given more pocket money, compared to 39% of girls.

A number of organisations are working hard to identify gender pay and diversity sticking points and putting in place measures to address these. This includes return-to-work schemes, development of the female talent pipeline, support for both male and female working parents and carers, unconscious bias training, employee networks, as well as initiatives to engage all employees in progressing the diversity and inclusion agenda, including male staff and senior leaders.

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At the very least, the reporting regulations will intensify the conversation around the gender pay gap and perhaps encourage increased engagement with the steps employers are taking, or could be taking, to close the gap. It could also facilitate a greater degree of best practice sharing, particularly as the government intends to shine a spotlight on organisations trailblazing in this area.

It is a sad state of affairs when the notion of a pocket money gender pay gap, although jarring, is not wholly unsurprising. The government’s aim to eliminate the gender pay gap within a generation may be overly optimistic, but hopefully through the combined efforts of government, business, and individuals, not too many generations will pass before the notion of a gender pay gap – whether in pocket money or wages – is not only shocking, but utterly inconceivable.