Mind the gender pay gap

On 6 April legislation came into force that makes it mandatory for all organisations with more than 250 employees to publish gender pay gap figures. Recent estimates from the Office for National Statistics suggest the pay gap currently stands at 19.2% for full-time and part-time employees in the UK.  This gap has predominantly been driven by a lack of women in senior positions and it is hoped that transparent reporting of pay at every level will tackle the so called ‘glass pyramid’.

There is much evidence that organisations who employ women in senior roles perform better, so this is not only morally and legally the right thing to do but also makes good business sense. The legislation is based on the idea that forcing larger employers to publish gender pay data will shine a spotlight on the issue and force organisations to start thinking about and explaining what they intend to do to close any existing gap.

Statistics, damn statistics

Critics have argued that the current reporting requirements are too blunt an instrument to facilitate change. One of the problems is that the information required is based on averages and has to be summarised into quartiles. While this facilitates ease of comparison across employers, it can result in fairly meaningless data because it does not reveal real differences in pay rates for comparable jobs, which is the purpose of the equal pay legislation. For most organisations the data should be seen as a starting point. A more granular analysis will be required to understand the key drivers and create a narrative to explain how any existing gap will be closed in the particular organisation.

Here at NCVO

Like many voluntary sector organisations NCVO employs more women than men. All jobs are graded and everyone on a particular grade is paid the same, so we comply with the equal pay legislation. However once jobs are placed in quartiles a gender pay gap arises. This is because we have a male chief executive and of the three directors I am currently the only woman. At middle management level we have a 50:50 gender split but because overall we employ more women than men, there are proportionately more women in lower grade (and part-time) roles.

Men-only shortlists for part-time and more junior positions would start to address this perceived gap but we have to be careful to avoid throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Such an approach would reduce the opportunities for women returning to work after maternity leave or working in part-time roles while their children are young. Conversely women-only shortlists for senior positions smack of tokenism. And both would normally be illegal, of course.

Reporting can only take us so far

So while reporting is a useful way of highlighting the issue, real change can only happen if a holistic approach is adopted. Measures such as flexible working hours, shared parental leave and family-friendly policies can contribute to this. Employers have a huge role to play. However, there needs to be a fundamental mind shift in society if the gender pay gap is to be eradicated. Only when society starts to value time out for caring for children and family and perceive the skills and experiences this affords as equally valuable to skills and experience gained in a workplace, will women (and men) returning to work after a period of absence be afforded the opportunities to return to their career where they left off, rather than several rungs down the ladder.


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Avatar photo Susan Cordingley is director of planning and resources at NCVO. She leads on NCVO's fifth strategic aim, to be a sustainable and socially responsible organisation.

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