Gender Pay:
Shining a light in dark corners

15th January 2018

The issue of gender equality seems never far away from social media and our global news outlets. With the Weinstein affair gathering momentum and the growing number of published gender pay reports, highlighting substantial levels of disparity amongst various well-known organisations, it’s fair to say gender politics is a key agenda issue that is increasingly determining business, politics and society in general.

Last week’s announcement from Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s now former China Editor, to step down from her role because she believed the Corporation was in breach of the law by not paying her the same as her male counterparts, was further testimony to the rift it is causing.

This particular topic is one close to all of us who were involved in the recent publication of the CIPD’s 2017 reward management survey. As co-author of the report, one of the key themes that we chose to include this year’s survey was that of gendered pay. Justification for how and why people get paid what they do has clearly become an issue for organisations and our findings showed that there was a shift taking place and some recognition that firms must do more to address it.

The topic of pay has always been a controversial one. This is particularly the case in the UK, where discussions on pay have always been regarded as in bad taste. Whilst the reward survey showed that market rates are now the driving force behind reward strategy, there is no shying away from the fact that the monetary value placed on a role remains relatively subjective. One’s notion of ‘value’ and ‘worth’ is a very personal matter.

Yet, no one can argue against paying a woman the same as a man to do the same job. Indeed, the law insists on it. And the Government’s decision to legislate on gender pay and make mandatory the publication of the pay gap between men and women, in organisations that employ over 250 staff, is an indication of its prominence and importance.

What the reward survey highlights is a fundamental need for businesses to look at why women are not coming forward and being appointed to senior posts. Organisations need to identify the blockages that are being created and make all efforts to remove these obstacles from within.

However, press reporting of the pay inequality and gender pay has to date often been clumsy and these two very separate measures are regularly conflated. When we look at the issue of gender and pay, it is important to understand that unequal pay for the same role is not the same as measuring the gap on gender pay. Gender pay reporting requires organisations to compare the overall pay average for men and women within the same organisation. Whilst unequal pay is about ensuring the same monetary value is awarded for the same role.

In terms of gender pay reporting (which this post focuses on), organisations such as clothing retailer, Phase Eight, have come under widespread criticism for paying women on average 65% less than men. In our CIPD survey, we found that the glass ceiling was widely blamed for this difference. In terms of management roles, 43% of companies questioned believed there simply were not enough women in senior jobs and that the bulk of low paid work was being undertaken by female workers. The survey also showed that women were more likely to reach the top in the public or voluntary sector and least likely to bridge the pay gap in manufacturing.

Interestingly, only 5% of respondents cited childcare or dependents as a cause of the pay gap. However, responsibilities at home may still be holding women back from applying for higher pay roles. What the reward survey highlights is a fundamental need for businesses to look at why women are not coming forward and being appointed to senior posts. Organisations need to identify the blockages that are being created and make all efforts to remove these obstacles from within.

At the time of completing the survey, only a third had – or were contemplating – carrying out a gender pay gap review or equal pay audit. This may largely be down to the fact that around 60% of those who took part were SMEs and therefore not legally required to undertake one. However, during the round table discussion it was clear that whilst the issue of gender pay was of some concern for big businesses and the public sector, there was no real recognition that organisations were part of the problem.

As one of the leading reward specialists said, the introduction of gender pay reviews was about “shining a light in dark corners” and making it a focal issue for business. But the issue was seen by as a challenge for society at large and not just of organisations who were now required to report on it. Those questioned believed that gender pay should not now be used as a stick to beat businesses with.

The career choices of young women were also viewed as part of the problem. This – the practitioners believed – was not just a challenge for business but for education too, since women often chose their career paths during their informative years. There were some encouraging signs that ‘soft skills’ – traditionally the domain of women - were now being recognised as having the same value as technical competencies in the workplace. The reward experts concluded that many organisations were now recognising the need to pay higher rates of pay for managerial capabilities and it was envisaged that in time, this may narrow the pay gap.

Overall, the reward survey found that the arrival of gender pay gap reporting has not necessarily transformed the way organisations approach the pay issue. Whilst discussions in the media and the implementation of gender pay reporting have nudged the debate forward, a number of cultural and behavioural issues remain entrenched.

Building a narrative around the results (cynics might consider this as doing a good PR job) and coordinating efforts to publish company findings on the same day as others, was also a key imperative for some companies who responded to the survey. Burying bad news tends to avoid unwanted press coverage and finger pointing at individual organisations. Indeed, for some firms, limiting press intrusion seemed as much a priority, as working towards eroding the pay issue altogether.

This is disappointing, since the pay disparity requires organisations to dig deep and resolve these issues as part of a broader effort to tackle inequality and diversity. The business case for developing and championing inclusivity and equal opportunity has been made many times over, but the issue of value and worth in an organisation is as much a moral imperative as it is an economic one. It’s time we resolved it.

What the reward survey highlights is a fundamental need for businesses to look at why women are not coming forward and being appointed to senior posts. Organisations need to identify the blockages that are being created and make all efforts to remove these obstacles from within.