‘Few employers have taken concrete action to reduce their gender pay gap’

A new report on the 2018 gender pay audit finds little sign of concrete, measurable action being taken to address pay gaps.

Gender Pay gap


The gender audit regulations do not appear to have resulted in many employers developing concrete, measurable and targeted actions to reduce their gender pay gap, according to a government report.

The Employers’ Understanding of the Gender Pay Gap and Actions to Tackle it report, on the Government Equalities Office site, says that while many of the employers surveyed and interviewed by the authors had aspirations to address their gender pay gap [GPG] in future, examples of concrete action taken in response to the regulations were relatively rare.

Where employers had already implemented actions, it says this was typically because these actions had been in place for some time as part of other strategies and initiatives (and had often been ‘re-badged’ for their GPG plan). However, in a minority of cases qualitative interviews found that employers had implemented new actions such as reviewing pay structures, recruitment practices and policies.

Three-quarters (73%) of employers questioned felt that the priority allocated to reducing their GPG had not changed since calculating their results to meet the gender audit regulations. However, a quarter (24%) indicated it was now a higher priority (with this rising to 43% among those with a high GPG of over 20%).

Qualitative interviews for the report suggested that most employers still had a relatively passive attitude to GPG, says the report.

Despite concerns about lack of concrete action, most respondents believed that the requirement to measure and report their GPG data had resulted in a greater engagement with the GPG issue at senior-level within their organisation.

Around two-thirds agreed that the regulations had increased awareness of gender pay issues at board level (69%) and prompted board level discussion or conversation about their GPG (67%). Approaching half (46%) reported that this had resulted in the board taking action to address their GPG.

Larger organisations were more likely to say awareness had increased at senior level and those with larger gaps said their boards were more likely to take action. Motivations ranged from fairness to trying to minimise negative publicity. However, respondents were often unable to pinpoint specific changes in board-level plans or behaviour, beyond a broad intention to monitor their GPG and/or seek to find ways to reduce it in the future.

The report found employer attitudes to reducing the GPG varied widely, with just 23% allocating it a high priority, 45% a medium priority and 29% a low (or non-) priority. It said there had been no change since the baseline survey in the proportion treating the GPG as a high priority, although the proportion viewing it as either a high or medium priority had risen from 61% to 69%.

The larger an employer’s self-reported GPG, the more likely they were to treat it as a high priority, said the report. Employers that allocated a low (or non-) priority to reducing their GPG were generally evenly split into those that did not need to do any more, those that believed they could not do any more and those that had no desire to do any more.

In addition, although two-thirds (67%) of surveyed employers had either already developed a GPG strategy or planned to take action in future, the report noted that there appeared to be some reluctance to publicise GPG reduction measures.

The report also covered employers’ experiences of doing the audit. It found the ease of complying with gender audit regulations were driven by three main factors: the complexity of employers’ workforce and pay structures (for instance, multiple divisions, use of contract staff and bonus schemes), the sophistication of their payroll system (i.e. whether the software could produce automated GPG reports) and the availability of knowledgeable/experienced staff to undertake the process. Most thought the process would get easier as they got used to it.

It said the vast majority of employers (96%) obtained internal sign-off from their leadership team prior to publishing their figures and most (83%) produced a narrative commentary, many including strategies and actions to reduce it and more detailed analysis.

Only 16% – mainly those with a high gap – had proactively engaged with staff and nearly a third had not done any promotion of their figures at all. Most organisations reported that there had been little response to their published GPG results among their employees.

In terms of employers’ approach to reducing their GPG (or ensuring they continued to have no GPG), there was a roughly even split between those that had developed a formalised strategy (34%), those that intended to take action but had not yet developed specific plans (33%) and those that did not intend to take any action (30%).

Actions included offering or promoting flexible working, promoting parental leave policies that encourage both men and women to share childcare, seeking to make cultural changes within their organisation and implementing gender-specific recruitment, promotion or mentoring schemes.

The report is based on a telephone survey of 900 large employers (with 250+ staff), and 30 follow-up qualitative interviews to explore the key issues in more detail.

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