The suspension of compulsory gender pay gap reporting couldn’t have come at a worse time as research shows women are facing particular threats in the workplace and data is essential to understanding the impact.
Last week the BBC published its latest pay gap report. The report showed the median pay gap has narrowed from 6.7% last year to 6.2% this year. There has been similar improvement on the ethnic minority pay gap, while the pay gap for disabled and LGBTQ+ workers has risen slightly. The part-time pay gap has also risen. The BBC has also announced its bonus gap, although this is based on its voucher recognition scheme and long service awards as it doesn’t offer bonuses. For gender, this stands at a median of 37.6% and reflects long-term retention issues, reflecting how more men stay at the BBC longer than 20 years. As a former BBC employee, I can vouch for the fact that many women of my generation have left over the course of the years for a variety of reasons – mine being an inability to marry long shifts with childcare and the need to earn a full-time wage.
The report was accompanied by reports that the BBC has given pay rises to more than 700 women since July 2017 when equal pay at the corporation became a big issue, reflected in a number of high-profile cases including those of Carrie Gracie and Samira Ahmed who claimed to have been paid less than men doing similar jobs to them. A number of women were given pay rises after going through formal channels, while the majority received a pay revision or increase as a result of an informal pay inquiry process.
The BBC, being the BBC, has received a lot of coverage, but there has been much activity generally over the past few years on equal pay or pay in female-dominated sectors. Just last week a group of care workers were awarded an average of 10K pounds each after a tribunal ruled they had been unlawfully paid less than half the minimum wage for looking after elderly and disabled people in their homes. Most of the workers were black or ethnic minority women on zero-hours contracts who were not paid for travel time between visits, which lowered their overall earnings to below the minimum wage.
There are fears, however, that in the current economic climate such progress could go backwards – and at a fast rate. One of the mechanisms for keeping the issue at the forefront of public debate has been the gender pay audits. Whatever their shortcomings, the annual reporting of pay gaps kept people talking about the problem and challenged employers to analyse and address what the particular issues were in their sector – whether that was a lack of women in senior roles or a lack of women generally or any number of other issues.
This year gender pay gap reporting was suspended in light of the pandemic and even though that call came late in the day for this year’s figures it had an immediate effect – with around half actually reporting their figures compared to the previous year. There has been great concern that this sends the wrong message to employers at precisely the wrong time, given research showing how much women have been affected by Covid-19. Study after study shows women have taken on the majority of the childcare, have been more likely to be furloughed as a result and that many have lost their jobs due to childcare issues. We know that if the data is not available, the Government will be reliant on charities and other organisations to do the work, with greatly reduced resources to Government. Realistically, they will only be able to provide a snapshot view in different sectors.
Listening into the Women and Equalities Committee reports the need for good data is abundantly clear in order to press for action. Last week the Committee heard from three sectors renowned for low pay, all of which are female-dominated – hair and beauty, social care and childcare. All face different challenges – staff shortages for social care, the long-term risk of closure for nurseries and the short-term pressures on hair and beauty. Two are very much in the frontline of our response to the pandemic. What unites all three, though, is the issue of low pay. We need to keep a spotlight on this issue and be clear that in the fight for equality good data matters.