The public sector gender pay audits: what do they show?

The public sector round of the gender pay audits has closed. What do they show?

Pay Gap


The deadline has now passed for public sector organisations to file their gender pay audits [private sector organisation have until 4th April].

The results are interesting, but not unexpected. The gap has widened slightly since last year with some 96 per cent of government departments and 90 per cent of universities reporting a pay gap, for instance.

Those monitoring the pay gaps have emphasised that the gender pay gap is not the same as equal pay as there has been some confusion among the public.

Employers with over 250 staff have to report the average pay for men and women in different pay bands and devise from this a generalised pay gap figure.

That means the figures tend to be more a record of a lack of women in senior roles or a preponderance of women in lower paid roles.

However, there are sometimes other complicating factors which employers have been urged to outline in analysis reports alongside their figures.

Outlining the reasons and how employers will address them show they are taking their gender pay gaps seriously. It may also go some way to explaining why, in some cases, gaps have increased despite efforts to close them.

For instance, if you have few women at the top and one of those women leaves and is replaced by a man it can have a big impact on your figures.

This shows the need for continuous ongoing monitoring and action on this issue. It is a long-term one which requires structural change – unpicking all the issues that might contribute to pay gaps, including traditional career paths, cultures of presenteeism, etc.

For public sector organisations facing funding and other pressures, ongoing cuts and skills shortages also have an impact, meaning cuts in staffing and restructures which may affect things like flexible working. We have seen, for instance, how work life balance has become a key reason for nurses leaving an overstretched NHS which is really struggling with skills shortages.

Analysis and action plans

So what are the figures we know since the public sector reporting deadline passed? We know that the average pay gap in universities is 13.7 per cent, compared to the national average of 9.1 per cent.

Durham has the highest pay gap in Russell Group universities at 23.77 per cent, which includes staff on casual contracts. Many universities also report a high bonus gender gap – the difference between what men and women are paid in bonuses. The University of Liverpool has a 87.6% bonus gap and Newcastle University 80%.

Durham says its gap is due in part to fewer women being in the most senior positions, but also to the fact that some lower paid roles attract special allowance payments for unsocial hours due to the university’s collegiate system. These roles are dominated by men and the university is looking at how it can attract more women into them.

A report in The Guardian last week highlighted that multi-academy trusts tend to have larger pay gaps than other schools, which it puts down to the pay gap between teaching assistants who tend to be women and those at the top who tend to be men. It seems that more egalitarian organisations have lower pay gaps.

Every government department except for the Department for Work and Pensions has a median pay gap.

The highest gap can be found at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport who reported a 22.9 per cent difference. Moreover, one in three departments reported that the gap had widened since last year.

The picture is better in local government where many women are employed. The average gap has fallen from 5.4% to 4.8%.

Among the reasons given by those with higher pay gaps are outsourcing lower paid traditionally male jobs which means there are more women in the lower income jobs. Meanwhile, Thanet District Council, which reports a 27.6% pay gap in favour of women, says this is in part due to it outsourcing lower paid traditionally female jobs. Last year its pay gap was 5.8% in favour of men.

In health, a Guardian analysis shows men working in NHS trusts are paid on average 10% more than their female peers and that 93% of trusts pay men more than women.

This is blamed on more men being in senior roles. Interestingly, other health sector organisations report much higher gaps.

Nursing home provide Vida Healthcare reported a median gap of 79.3%, Suffolk GP Federation had a 74.8% gap, Community Dental Services reported a 61% gap, Modality Partnership in Birmingham had a 60.7% gap and Intrahealth, which runs GP practices and pharmacies in the north-east, has a median gap of 57.4%.

The size of the disparity at individual NHS trusts is also increasing. Whereas last year 19 NHS trusts had median pay gaps of 20% or above, this year 24 did, while 60 had gaps in excess of the public sector median of 14.1%. In all, 125 trusts’ pay gaps have worsened, widening their average median pay gap from 9.2% to 10.1%.

In housing the gap was an average of 10.8% whereas in the police force nearly half of forces reported gaps of over 20% in favour of men.

So it is clear that things are complicated, but that action is needed on many fronts to tackle the causes of the gender pay gap. Raising the wages in traditionally female jobs is one aspect, for instance, but for that to happen greater funding of public sector organisations is needed.

Will the media spotlight fade?

Within each sector and for each employer there are different complicating factors which each employer must identify and address.

For the moment gender pay gap reporting is mandatory, but doing something about any gap identified is not. Until now the fact that the media has shone a spotlight on the issue has been good.

This year, that spotlight will continue to shine because journalists will look at whether there has been progress since last year.

The danger is that with little progress and some backtracking – because this is such a complex issue – they will eventually lose interest.

Tougher legislation may then be the only way forward and those who have already identified where the issues lie and what needs to be done and have started work on this will be ahead of the game.

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