Know your gender pay gap and what is driving it

An employer event yesterday heard of the importance of understanding the data on gender pay gaps and monitoring what is the most effective way of addressing it.

Wage Inequality diagram, showing gender pay gap


Employers need to ensure they understand what gender pay audits are telling them about what is driving pay gaps and what action is most effective to address it, a gathering of employers heard yesterday.

The Gender Diversity: Closing the Pay Gap and Fixing the Pipeline event was organised by coaching, online, childcare and eldercare solutions provider My Family Care. It also heard that it was important to reward line managers who make progress on diversity and inclusion and to monitor data on an ongoing basis rather than just once a year.

The event was hosted by law firm Norton Rose Fulbright LLP and investigated the latest developments on the gender pay gap and gave advice on the way forward.

Ruth Thomas, co-founder of HR management company Curo Compensation, said that, despite figures based on the latest audit showing only a fifth of companies had put action plans in place to address gender pay gaps, that 26% had not put a link in their figures to a narrative or other background material, that 20% had left it until the last week to report their figures and despite the most recent figures showing little movement, there were signs that progress was being made. Already over 100 employers had filed this year’s figures. Thomas said leaving it until the last minute showed employers were not prepared and added that rushing things could lead to mistakes being made over figures. She added that gender pay reporting was having an impact on talent acquisition. For instance, research showed two thirds of women said they would look at a company’s gender pay gap when they were considering whether to work for them.

Thomas also pointed to the situation in Ireland, which was passing a bill on gender pay reporting which drew on the UK experience. Not only did the bill make it mandatory to publish actions plans [it is still voluntary in the UK], but there was a set schedule for expanding the range of employers who had to report, moving from those with over 250 employees [as applies in the UK] down to those with just 50. Moreover, individuals would be able to report on non-compliance with the gender pay gap rules.

She highlighted issues for UK employers to be aware of, including that international companies were starting to implement gender pay gap reporting. Thomas also pointed out other upcoming legislation on pay reporting – ethnicity pay reporting which is coming in in 2020 with the first deadline being April 2021 and the executive pay gap reporting coming in in 2020. Employers needed to be ready and have effective ways of collating data, she said.

In the panel discussion that followed, Jessica Mace from the Government Equalities Office said it was important for employers to understand the particular issues contributing to the pay gap in their organisation and to learn from each other and share examples of best practice across sectors.

Her colleague Francine Hudson talked about some of the evidence-based actions which could help bring down gender pay gaps, including flexible working [advertising flexible jobs and redesigning jobs so they could be worked flexibly, for instance], leadership [for instance, strong senior role models] and addressing the unequal care burden.

She said that it was easier to address systemic bias than individual bias and added that GEO is looking to broaden the scope of areas it looks at. For instance, it is currently looking at how to address sexual harassment in the workplace.

Unconscious bias

Hudson said research evidence suggested some common actions were not as successful as others. For instance, she said unconscious bias training had mixed results.

Kaammini Chanrai, Gender and Policy Manager at Business in the Community, said unconscious bias training could be perceived as negative. Bystander intervention training could be a more practical and effective alternative, she stated. “It can be seen as vilifying certain people, although everyone has biases. Rather than doing that, why not empower people by giving them the skills to reflect on and call out inappropriate behaviour,” she said, adding that that included micro-behaviour which was harder to call out.

Chanrai also drew attention to BITC’s Equal Lives report which showed the negative comments men often faced, for example, being referred to as babysitters when they were doing childcare.

The panel was chaired by My Family Care’s Head of Thought Leadership Jennifer Liston-Smith.  It was agreed that line managers were vital to setting the right culture and behaviour in an organisation and that communicating cultural values was important.

Lak Purewal, HR director EMEA at Norton Rose Fulbright, described the law firm’s approach to gender pay audits, its inclusion of partner data, what it had learnt about the need for transparency and how it had used that knowledge to extend its reporting to the ethnicity pay gap this year. It had also looked to report on sexual orientation and disability, but found it did not have enough quality data to cover this in a meaningful way yet.

The firm, 59% of whose employees are female, had made some progress on getting more women partners, but still had some work to do to get to its target figure of 30% female partners by 2020. It is currently at 27%. This year it had noticed some data going in a negative direction so had decided to do more regular reporting than just annually looking at the figures and it was looking to use this data in its remuneration reviews. That would mean the gender pay gap was in mind before decisions on remuneration were made.

Purewal spoke about the importance of creating the right culture to encourage diversity. This included the firm’s policies on agile working, senior leadership support, its employee networks and its Career Strategies programme for women associates which includes one to one coaching and aims to get more women into partner positions. The programme was being rolled out for BAME associates this year.

In a panel discussion at the end of the event, Thomas talked about the need for accountability for diversity and inclusion to be extended across leadership so it was not seen as just another HR initiative.

Mace highlighted the importance of how information about gender pay gaps and action plans were communicated internally, how policies were implemented and of an evidence-based approach to what worked in different organisations. For instance, she said it seemed, from research, that sponsorship by a senior leader was more effective than mentoring. She added that it was important to know all about an organisation’s gender pay gap in order to address it effectively.

Thomas said employers needed to have the right processes to get the data it needed. She added that having good data was vital to understanding how to address the problem.

*The GEO is holding a webinar this lunchtime [12.30-1.30pm] led by Dr Elena Doldor from Queen Mary, University of London on the actions employers can take to support women. Register to the webinar here: 

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