Gender pay gap: More action is needed to close it

Gender pay gap reporting is a vanishingly rare piece of progressive policymaking on the part of the current government. 

Successful? That remains to be seen. This morning the BBC revealed the results of an analysis that found fewer than half the UK’s biggest employers have succeeded in narrowing it. 

The figures are stark. The overall median gap revealed by the latest exercise stands at 9.6 per cent, little different to last year’s figure of 9.7 per cent. 

Some 48 per cent of employers saw it falling but it went the other way at 45 per cent, with the remainder reporting no change. 

Of course it’s early days and addressing the issue was always going to be a medium to long term project. It requires getting more women into better and higher paid roles. That is a process that doesn’t take place overnight. It demands firms commit to reviewing and changing their recruitment processes, working practices, workplace culture.  Reform can be slow to take hold, particularly at large and bureaucratic organisations where policies agreed at the top take time to permeate through. 

But one would have hoped to at least see a hint of a move in the right direction, and that really isn’t there. Slow progress? Auntie’s figures show nearly no progress. Small wonder given that a significant number of firms have yet to commit to making any.

There is a worrying read across here to what has happened with executive pay reporting. There were hopes that the requirement that firms come clean would help to curb excesses. It hasn’t. The take home of bosses has continued to rise at a far faster rate than that of their workers despite the lack of any evidence that it has brought about any meaningful improvement in economic or corporate performance. 

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We “need to keep up with the market” “talent is rare” “international marketplace for CEOs”. For that you can read across to “hard to find high quality female candidates” “we’re making efforts but…” “women take time off to have families so it’s not really our fault” and so on.    

The is a real risk that gender pay gap reporting becomes just another tick box exercise in which firms hide behind their peers’ similarly dismal performance and rely on talk as a substitute for action.

For this to be proved a successful piece of policymaking as well as a progressive one, more may be required. 

The suggestion by TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady that companies be legally required to spell out how they plan to address the issue as well as reporting on it would be a good place to start. 



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