The deadline has passed and the results are in. The UK’s most comprehensive attempt yet to understand pay inequality has resulted in thousands of UK employers across the public and private sector publishing their gender pay gap figures. But what does the data tell us, and what do the next steps in the fight for pay equality look like?
The gender pay gap measures the difference between the average hourly pay of a man versus that of a woman at a given employer. It primarily captures two things – equal pay issues (i.e. paying women unequally for the same work, work rated as equivalent, or work of equal value) and workforce segregation (i.e. the tendency for women to be in lower paying roles). Both are the product of gender discrimination at some level – there’s nothing ‘natural’ about the lack of women in managerial and STEM roles for example. But the former is a breach of the law, so few companies will admit that equal pay might be a factor in causing their gender pay gap, even though the evidence suggests this is still a huge problem.
However, even if equal pay isn’t a factor at a particular company, it is not good enough for employers to simply blame their gender pay gap on, for example, the UK’s failure to train more women engineers, a fact cited by many energy companies in their gender pay gap reports. All employers have a role to play in overcoming gender segregation in the workforce, and they should all be taking active steps to examine how their own recruitment, retention, and pay progression practices might be creating glass ceilings for women workers.
The data from employers where Prospect is represented highlights how important unions are to making progress on pay equality. At two of the employers with the lowest gaps, BT and the Met Office, Prospect has been working for years to tackle pay equality issues and the success in these campaigns is reflected in the relatively low gender pay gap figures these employers have now reported.
The regulations are certainly not perfect, but have achieved at least one important goal: shedding more light on gender pay inequality in the UK and reigniting a broader conversation about why women are paid less than men and what needs to be done about it. But, if the regulations are to prove meaningful and have a lasting impact, then publishing the data needs to be seen as the start of the process, not the end.
So what are some of the next steps?
- Make sure your employer has actually reported - it is likely that some employers have still not done so, especially given the uncertainty about what, if any, enforcement action will be taken for non-compliance. Check if your employer has reported; if they don’t have to, encourage them to do so anyway.
- Meet with management – request a meeting with management to talk about the gender pay gap figures; many employers have produced an accompanying narrative alongside the data they’ve published, but many have not – all employers should be pushed to explain the figures and to say what action they plan to take to close the pay gap.
- Ask for more data - the figures companies are required to report only offer a limited window on what is going in terms of pay and equality; some employers, like the Office for Nuclear Regulation, have gone beyond the minimum requirements and published data on their pay gaps by pay grade and job role – all employers should consider doing that, as well as providing data on other metrics like working hours, overtime pay etc.
- Request a full equality audit – most employers will state categorically that equal pay is not an issue for them, they would be liable to legal action if it were; urge them to back up that assertion with a comprehensive equal pay audit that will examine the whole pay system for equal pay issues. Talk to your reps and branch officials, and check out this briefing on the basics of equal pay.
- Get educated – Prospect have a range of resources available on the gender pay gap, including a factsheet that lays out the basics, and a new e-learning module; start a conversation in your branch, make sure everyone understands the issues, and figure out what action you want to take.