How should companies respond after their gender pay gap is revealed?

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Clare Considine
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There’s no more avoiding it: UK companies must reveal their gender pay gap by next week. Stylist investigates what happens now.     

No one likes to talk about their salary – it’s surely up there as one of the most awkward topics of conversation. But new gender pay gap rules from the Government Equalities Office is forcing the issue out into the open. As of next week, all UK companies with more than 250 employees must have revealed the percentage pay gap between their male and female employees.

The legislation affects 9,000 companies employing more than 15 million people – around half the UK workforce. So what do the figures actually mean? 

Firstly, the gender pay gap is distinct from equal pay. Under the 1970 Equal Pay Act, it’s illegal in the UK to pay people performing the same role differently because of their gender. 

But the gender pay gap takes a holistic view, looking at all jobs in an organisation and revealing the difference between the hourly pay of men and women as an average.

Who has revealed?

Reactions to the new requirements have been telling. The homework was set in April 2017, but as of last week there were still more than 6,000 companies who had failed to report. If you were feeling cynical, you might infer they were waiting until the deadline in the hope their big reveal would be lost in a rush of similar statistics.

Of those who published ahead, a handful paid women more (bravo, Evans Cycles and Unilever) but the majority revealed higher male pay. Some of the most shocking differences are in the bonus category. As Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, puts it: “It’s hard to argue that a 70% or 80% bonus pay gap is justifiable. Women are not 70% or 80% less productive than men; when women ask for bonuses they are seen to be pushy.”

The gaps are the result of myriad deeply ingrained societal norms. There is, of course, pay discrimination. But there’s also the fact women tend to be concentrated in lower-paid roles. 

Then there’s occupational segregation: women are often employed in industries that are valued less than male-heavy ones. The mean national pay gap stands at 14% – a figure that hasn’t shifted in three years.

Companies’ financial disclosures have confirmed the gender pay gap is a major problem in the UK 

We need more

The statistics are insightful, but far from perfect. A Financial Times investigation last year found that around one in 20 employers were likely fiddling the figures. And legal specialists have warned that proposed sanctions for companies that don’t comply are largely toothless. 

The information is limited, too. There’s nothing in the stats that considers women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds or social class.

But it is progress. We asked a cross-section of early-publishers how they feel about their company’s performance and what they plan to do to improve the situation going forward.

Helen Rose

Chief operating officer, TSB

Women’s hourly rate: 31% lower

Where women work: 48% in the highest-paid quartile, 76% in the lowest-paid quartile

Bonus: women’s pay is 53% lower

“Diversity matters to us because it prevents ‘group think’. If you’ve got people from the same background all sitting around an executive table then you’re likely to hear the same questions being asked. When [TSB launched as a separate brand] in 2013 we were in the fortunate position of building the corporate core from scratch, so I was able to generate a diverse team.

I’m not proud of our numbers and we can definitely do better. But it is interesting to get under the skin of them. For us, it’s about shaping our workforce. Over three-quarters of our customer service roles are women. Those women do absolutely great jobs. And, of course, a lot of those roles can be done flexibly. But we’re looking hard to ensure those women have an opportunity to progress.

As well as this, each one of our exec members is sponsoring two to three of our most talented women to help them make that final step to the most senior levels.”

Hannah Boulton

Head of press and marketing, The British Museum

Women’s hourly rate: 0% lower

Where women work: 57% in the highest-paid quartile, 49% in the lowest-paid quartile

Bonus: no bonuses paid

“We’re delighted that the museum has a statistically zero gender pay gap. The lack of bias hasn’t come about as a result of any specific policy or intervention – it’s all the more pleasing that it has occurred organically. Rather, we hope, the zero pay gap is a reflection of a lack of institutional bias in terms of gender.

The British Museum has always been an equal opportunities employer and we will continue to monitor the gender pay gap situation as we’re determined to maintain these standards.”

Simmone Haywood

Head of talent, Marks & Spencer

Women’s hourly rate: 12.3% lower

Where women work: 66.3% in the highest-paid quartile, 74.7% in the lowest-paid quartile

Bonus: women’s pay is 53.4% lower

“It was important to us to embrace the findings whatever they were. We haven’t just started to pay attention to gender. It wasn’t as if we found out that we had to publish the results and then thought, ‘Oh my goodness, we need to do something about this.’

What the stats do is bring to life a point in time and give us an opportunity to sharpen our focus. But I think we’re doing an awful lot, and it’s working. We have a gender network as opposed to a women’s network, because we believe men need to be part of the solution. We provide mentoring for women at all levels. Plus, there’s leadership development and one-to-one coaching to promote women in senior roles. All our job adverts encourage people to ask about flexible working. That’s really important.

I’m a good example. I’ve worked for the organisation for some time. I have three children and I’m an advert for flexible working: I’ve worked full-time, part-time, job shares – three days and four days – and I’ve worked from home for some of my week, too.”

Sally Boyle

International head of human capital management, Goldman Sachs

Women’s hourly rate: 55.5% lower

Where women work: 17% in the highest-paid quartile, 62.4% in the lowest-paid quartile

Bonus: women’s pay is 72.2% lower

“For us, the most important thing as we published our data was ensuring we had spent time communicating with our people beforehand. We had a meeting with the CEO and a discussion on International Women’s Day.

The key story coming out of the data is that it reflects our representation: we need more women in senior positions.

There are two strands to what we’re planning to do. One is to continue to focus on women in the firm and ensure they have the opportunity to develop in their roles and be promoted. We’ve just signed up to the Women in Finance Charter and are looking to get to 30% female representation at our senior levels by 2023.

Also, we know we need to ensure that we’re improving the representation. And we’re going to start with the most junior people. Our CEO recently announced that we hope to get our analyst population – made up of mostly graduates – to a 50/50 split by 2021. That will be a very good way to grow that pipeline.”

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