Kate Ledwidge: What is the benefit to employers of voluntarily submitting a gender pay report?

Kate Martin

In March 2020, the government announced its decision to suspend the requirement for businesses to publish their gender pay gap figures. Most people saw this as a sensible step to reduce the burden on HR teams around the country at a time of high stress in the midst of a global pandemic. However, now things are slowly creeping back towards normality, are there any benefits to taking the plunge and publishing gender pay gap figures anyway?

Studies suggest that younger talent, particularly those from the millennial generation downwards, want to work for employers which are committed to diversity and equality. A business that has chosen to publish its gender pay gap figures, particularly when it does not have to, can point to this when discussing its commitment to gender equality with its workforce and future recruits.

These days, many employers are also assessing the diversity and equality credentials of their service providers. Law firms, accountants, IT providers and many other service businesses are often asked to provide internal diversity and equality data when pitching for work or going through a tender process. So, some businesses that choose not to publish their gender pay gap data this year might be asked to provide a report on their gender equality data anyway, and may even be asked to explain why they had not opted to publish it already.

Gender pay gap reports were first mandatory for the year 2017/2018, and the stated aim was to ‘eliminate the gender pay gap in a generation’. Therefore, this is part of a long game, looking to achieve a progressive narrowing of the gap over time. It is easier to chart progress if businesses keep publishing data each year. It might even help to make some businesses’ 2020/2021 figures look better by comparison. Statistics showing an improving trajectory tend to give businesses good PR.

Publishing figures for 2019/2020 keeps businesses in the habit for when the requirement is inevitably reinstated next year. Therefore, if HR teams can make some time to do it now, it means those HR processes and systems can keep improving, and become more efficient. Moreover, knowledge is power, and commercial planning to achieve even better statistics next year can begin now.

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As with anything, there can also be downsides. The most obvious is the concern that publishing a gender pay gap report that, even if only superficially, reflects negatively on the earning potential of women, can attract negative press attention and have the opposite effect to some of those listed above. However, the reality is that gender pay gap reporting requirements are here to stay and their importance will probably grow over time, and so it is worth getting back into the habit sooner rather than later.

Kate Ledwidge is a senior associate at JMW Solicitors.