The ‘story’ behind companies’ gender pay gap reporting


Mercer, a company that helps organisations meet the health, wealth and career needs of a changing workforce, has released a Gender Pay Gap Reporting Survey. They received responses from 165 companies (29% of which were from the FTSE250), to explore insights from HR and reward professionals as to their perceptions, reactions, concerns and plans surrounding the legislation.

And what we’re beginning to see is a reticence to publish gender pay gap statistics without an accompanying narrative. And who can blame them? These companies, who employ over 250 employees, are not just answerable to their employees, but possibly shareholders as well. And if they don’t publish a narrative, they’re subject to the kind of media battering that we’ve already witnessed with the BBC.

And that’s because there’s still ongoing confusion between what the gender pay gap is and equal pay means.

So, when we’re told that 73% of companies intend to publish their figures with a supporting document that explains the whys and the ‘what we’re going to do about it’, it seems wholly sensible. Some might be keen to label these narratives as ‘excuses’. But, if they’re legally obliged to put these facts and figures out in the public domain, it feels totally reasonable – and responsible – that they get a chance to explain them. And, if it’s not looking positive, to suggest remedial action.

In fact, 54% of the companies surveyed have said that they are looking into the root causes. Although many admitted that they’re focussing on pay levels rather than long-term issues such as women’s careers. That said, there are some who are looking ahead. 25% of organisations have analysed data on female promotions already, with a further 30% intending to do this; 25% have set goals for female representation with a further 19% intending to do this; 36% have already trained managers in unconscious bias with a further 20% intending to do this.

As Chris Charman, Principal and Reward expert at Mercer, says ‘“Those companies who focus solely on compliance will have a hard time closing the gap,” said Mr Charman. “From our own research we see that to make progress on closing the Gender Pay Gap requires fair pay programmes, equal pay monitoring and corrective action, a strong focus on female progression and gender parity, as well as attention to the broader diversity and inclusion programme.”

It's going to be a fascinating few months to come. Not least when you get organisations like the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) publishing their gender pay gap report. Now, with under 250 employees, they’re certainly not required to do so. But according to an article in Personnel Today, they feel it’s important and encourage “more companies to follow suit and publish their pay gaps using it as an opportunity to look at what is driving them.”

Interestingly, the EHRC are reporting a negative mean pay gap of 7.5% (i.e., on average women are getting paid more than men); that there are 93 women working there as opposed to 71 men; and that 71% of senior staff at the organisation are women.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, the EHRC chief executive, says that publishing pay gaps should “guide action in organisations,” and that she hopes that “employers will use the opportunity to tell the story behind the numbers. This in turn will grow understanding across business and wider society about how to improve pay and development for women and to really drive gender equality.”

And on that we agree. Companies should be given the chance to assess, review and put forward actions to address inequality. And whilst it’s not wholly clear whether Hilsenrath is saying the figures that they’ve published that are skewed in women’s favour is a good or bad thing, surely equality should cut both ways.

But this is all part of a far wider-reaching issue. Whether it’s nature or nurture, right or wrong, there are simply industries and sectors that attract more men, than women and also more women, than men. Add in the complexities that surround women having children and the impact that has on their career, and we’re opening a whole other can of worms. What’s important though is that we use these reports to instigate discussions. So that businesses can take reasonable action where genuine injustice exists. Everyone deserves equal pay, for an equal role, but beyond that common sense will hopefully prevail. 

Monday, 4 September 2017

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