Stuart Hyland: Will this month’s Equality Act make a difference to equal pay?

You have to applaud the intent behind the incoming legislation, but I am less excited by the potential impact that I expect it to have, although I would love to be proved wrong.

The requirement to disclose details of pay differences between men and women will be voluntary, although it could become compulsory from 2013. The evidence of the last 10 years (and more) shows the self-regulated approach does not really work, so should we really expect its continuation to have any impact?

According to Office for National Statistics figures, the pay gap between men and women was 22% in 2009, a fall of 0.7% in the four years from 2005. The gap did close by nearly 4% from 2000 to 2005 after the 2003 Equal Pay Act amendment that simplified the claims process for employees, which might point to a more productive route for potential impact.

The sad truth is that real change will be achieved only with a fundamental culture shift and employers have other priorities that take precedence. Clearly there are exceptions, but many seem to regard equal pay as a risk to be managed rather than as a part of their duty as a responsible employer.

Part of the justification for the incoming disclosure legislation is that to tackle inequality, we must first be able to see it. Under a voluntary regime, I suspect those who disclose are likely to be those with a positive story to tell, which will not really give the oversight that is being sought.

– Stuart Hyland, head of reward consulting at Hay Group