Addressing the gender pay gap

25 May 2019

This article was featured in the June 2019 issue of the magazine.

Danny Done, managing director at Portfolio Payroll, provides advice on this important issue

By the time of reading qualifying employers will have already completed their gender pay gap reports for 2019. This year’s reporting deadlines, of 30 March and 4 April for public and private organisations respectively, are the second successive year that firms with 250 or more employees have been required to publish any difference in pay between male and female staff. 

Perhaps the main takeaway from last year’s reports was that a large percentage of employers attributed their gender pay gap to a lack of women working in highly paid senior positions. However, the government, unwilling to accept this as a reasonable excuse, have suggested ways that organisations could resolve this issue by releasing guidance on reducing the gender pay gap and improving gender equality. 

The guidance recognises that the first hurdle for employers is likely to be recruitment, as this is when decisions are made on who to hire and how much they should be paid. There is plenty of scope to improve opportunities during the recruitment process, including a commitment to shortlisting a mandatory number of female applicants for the interview stage. Alternatively, blind recruitment could be used, in which individuals’ names and gender are omitted from job applications, to prevent unconscious bias and ensure women are not unfairly overlooked for certain roles due to their gender. 

The interview and selection process itself is another area in which guidance suggests employers can have a positive impact on their gender pay gap report. In order to get a fair and accurate idea of an individual’s suitability, employers are encouraged to use a structured process and stick to pre-determined questions for all interviewees regardless of their gender. 

At the same time, commentators have also actively discouraged employers from asking candidates about their previous salaries and basing wage offers on these responses. The ‘pay question’, as it is often referred to, has been thought to exacerbate the gender pay gap by trapping women in lower salaries and employers should make sure that any wage offers are based on experience and suitability to the role. 

...promotion and progression are key to reducing the gender pay gap...

 

Positive action is another option for certain organisations that are keen to increase the representation of women in their workforce and reduce the gender pay gap. This will lawfully allow an organisation to select a female applicant for a role, over an equally matched male comparator, on the basis that women are underrepresented in their organisation. Whilst this is not commonly used, it does exist as an option for firms that want to make an immediate impact in improving the gender balance of their organisation. 

As women have traditionally tended to take on the role of primary care givers, a lack of flexible working opportunities is also believed to have contributed to the gender pay gap. Critics believe employers should give more consideration to flexible working requests, such as amended working hours or a period of home working, especially where these will allow women to continue in senior roles, reducing instances where women are unable to continue in work due to their family commitments. 

Government guidance also suggests employers do more to promote the benefits of the often-underused statutory shared parental leave (SShPL) as increased take up could help to reduce the gender pay gap. Educating both male and female staff on their ability to share up to fifty weeks of SShPL could lead to a more equal split of childcare responsibilities, making women more likely to return to the workplace sooner and reducing the likelihood of their career progression stalling due to a prolonged absence from work following childbirth. 

It is clear by now that promotion and progression are key to reducing the gender pay gap; therefore, employers would do well to ensure the processes for making these decisions remain open and transparent. Individuals should not be overlooked for positions either because they have children or are believed to want children in the future. Staff should be clear about what factors are involved in decision making and managers should come up with a checklist of skills and abilities which are made clear at the outset. Having this level of reassurance could also encourage more women to apply for internal promotions where they may not have done previously. 

The unfortunate truth for many businesses is that addressing the gender pay gap is unlikely to be a quick fix. The pay disparity between men and women has been formed over a significant period of time and is going to take a great amount of effort in order to be addressed fully. However, employers that take a committed and multifaceted approach to the situation are likely to benefit over time from greater gender equality at work and a more positive looking gender pay gap report.