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Liberty Hive wrote an open letter to the Government asking where it is on pay transparency, to which the Government responded this week. We wait to see some action.
There have been many attempts to achieve greater pay transparency in the past, with much resistance from some quarters. Greater pay transparency is indeed one of the drivers behind the gender pay gap audits, but the audits are fairly rough guides and are more indicative of the number of women at the lower levels of an organisation rather than being about specific individuals being paid less for doing similar jobs. As such they are just one part of the gender pay jigsaw.
There have been major campaigns to address pay transparency, such as the Fawcett Society’s Right to Know campaign and the European Parliament has ruled that EU companies with at least 50 employees should be fully transparent regarding pay.
In the past companies have argued against transparency so that they can tempt certain workers from rivals with preferential pay deals, particularly for highly competitive, hard-to-fill roles. The problem is that that secrecy and inequality becomes part of a widespread pay culture. I’ve certainly seen this in action myself, but I would argue that the impact on others if they find out the pay differential is at best entirely demotivating and, in every sense, devaluing – and research shows women are less likely to fight it and more likely to just reduce their input, with potential implications for their progression.
Women are told in so many different ways by their employers – and others – that they are not worth as much as men and then get sent to confidence workshops to build their self worth as if it is something innate and not a result of the messages they grow up with every single day.
I recall advocating that a reporter stepping up to cover my maternity leave be paid a similar rate to me, only to find out that he was already paid at least as much as me, despite the fact I was an editor. He had been given a preferential rate to tempt him over from another newspaper. I, on the other hand, had come from a lower rate with another employer and had therefore accepted what seemed to be a pay rise. Several of the women I worked with had come in as editorial assistants or similar and their pay had gone up only in increments when they were promoted so it was considerably lower than others doing a similar job. The moral of the story, for me at least, was that if you start at a lower level, you will never catch up – unless you move jobs a lot, which has traditionally been harder for those with caring responsibilities for a number of reasons, not least a lack of flexible new jobs.
Pay is one of those issues where a number of different structural problems combine to entrench inequality. And what happens for women generally is doubly the case for women of colour. We have to address all of them to make progress.
This week tech recruitment company Liberty Hive, which has launched its own pay transparency campaign, received a reply to its open letter to the Government saying that the Government will “continue to call on employers” to provide salary information in job adverts. The Government launched a pay transparency pilot early last year, based on encouraging employers to list a salary range on a job advert and not asking applicants to disclose their salary history, but there has been no information on when this will finish. Liberty Hive asked for an update. The Government said in its reply that work on this might fit best with its Inclusion at Work Panel, set up in response to the Inclusive Britain report published in March 2022.
It also stated: “The Government’s ambition is that, by giving everyone the information to understand what their skills are worth, and preventing them from being held back by their previous earnings, this will empower them to negotiate on a level playing field.”
Words are one thing, though. What counts is action. Some argue that pay transparency in the current cost of living crisis would inflate wages. It feels, though, as if they will always be a reason not to implement it and to maintain the status quo. And the thing is the status quo doesn’t stay as is. The longer pay inequality continues the wider the gap becomes. It’s not the only thing that needs a reset, but it is one part of the problem.