I was sitting discussing gender pay audits the other day and how they can be used to help change work culture and promote greater equality. It seems slightly odd talking about this stuff when, the moment you turn on the news, it appears everything is going backwards at 10,000 miles an hour. But that’s the world we live in, I guess. It’s an all-out fight for the future.
Although the legislation on gender pay audits is fairly weak and lacks any kind of teeth, the fact that it is on the books may force some general change. It’s similar to flexible working or to Shared Parental Leave. It’s about the general direction of travel, I suppose. These things become talking points and from talking comes action. Not always and not among all employers by all means, but hopefully among enough to make a difference because the case for doing these things has been well made – employees want more flexibility, more choice over how they raise their families and a fair number of them want a more equal playing field for all; employers want the best employees, they want them to be motivated and productive and they want their businesses to thrive.
So how can employers make the most of the weak legislation on offer when it comes to gender pay audits? Firstly, by not seeing it as just another tick box exercise. Just producing the data is not going to be enough because the data on its own could be used against a company.
If, for instance, there is a big pay gap in some areas or at some levels not putting that in context will allow that data to potentially be used against employers. Much better to contextualise it, to tell the story of why there are particular challenges in particular areas. That way you control the information more and the story that is told with it. And in contextualising it, it’s a good idea to show you have an action plan for how to address any problems. You could end up turning what could be a bad news story [we have a real gender equality problem; I wouldn’t come and work here if you are female or believe in equality] into a good one [look at us, we acknowledge we have a problem in these areas and this is what we are doing; come work with us to make a difference].
Another problem that came up in the discussions about gender pay audits is that a lot of employers are leaving it till quite late in the day to think about the audits. While some have done dummy runs at least on some of their data and have measures in place already for taking action to address gaps, others are waiting until the actual deadline to collect their data and then to do the analysis on it. That could mean they are still analysing last year’s data while preparing next year’s and are constantly three steps behind.
There is, however, help at hand. Acas and others are doing training sessions and there is quite a lot of best practice material around on building a stronger female pipeline with the more progressive employers trialling a variety of approaches and compiling data on what works.
And there is a lot of discussion among these of where to go next. Employers seem keen to share information and debate where to go next when it comes to this issue. Expect a lot more of a media focus on it too, even if the news agenda is full of reports of events which seem to fly in the face of progress.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of workingmums.co.uk.