The End of the Beginning on Closing Our Gender Pay Gap?

The Birmingham Post (England), April 19, 2018 | Go to article overview

The End of the Beginning on Closing Our Gender Pay Gap?


Byline: Chris Game

IDO accept that in the great scheme of things, this month's required publication by nearly 10,000 companies and public sector organisations of gender pay gap data doesn't really compare with the turning point of the Second World War.

Except just possibly in Prime Minister Winston Churchill's much-quoted characterisation of the Allies' 1942 victory at the Battle of El Alamein: "Not the end; not even the beginning of the end, but perhaps the end of the beginning."

Indeed, there is a figure of Churchillian admirability in the Equal Pay battle too - a remarkable woman politician, though certainly not Theresa May.

Yes, it was Prime Minister May who did eventually introduce Statutory Instrument No.172 (2017) - the Equality Act (2010) (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations - with its key 'duty to publish' stipulations: gender pay gaps, bonus payments, and, arguably most important of all, to do so annually.

But it was also Home Secretary May, the new Conservative-led Coalition and its business supporters who in 2010 delayed this beginning by seven years by doing their utmost to dilute the genuinely radical Equality Act inherited from the Labour Government and its author and driver, Equalities Minister Harriet Harman.

Its flagship policy, the gender pay audit, was diluted to effective extinction. Instead of employers having to reveal their gender pay gaps, a voluntary approach, we were assured, would be preferable. And some big companies did respond... five, to be precise.

By 2015, therefore, with the UK's overall gender pay gap - that is, between the total pay averages of all, not just full-time, workers - still close to 20 per cent, it was clear even to ministers that voluntary wasn't working.

Compulsory annual reporting, gender pay gap league tables, and annual gap-closing targets are no magic wand. But they do furnish hard-to-deny data, and highlight details, patterns and trends - the virtual absence, for instance, of a gender pay gap for full-time men and women between 22 and 39, and the consequently much higher gap among over-40s. They also signal where further data are needed and enable genuinely informed debate.

Hence, the end of the beginning. Harman had been right, although her Equality Act would have constituted a much bigger, as well as earlier, beginning.

For, despite its interminable gestation, this month's exercise has major limitations. First, it is confined to organisations with 250 or more full- and part-time employees - despite, secondly, there being no definitive database of companies with 250-plus employees.

No way, therefore, of identifying non-respondents, never mind penalising non-compliance. The most the Government Equalities Office threatens is that non-compliance runs a "reputational risk". Scary!

And thirdly, no way either, with only 14 pieces of information requested, of checking patently implausible returns. Those 14 items start with the mean and median gender pay gaps. 'Mean' is simply the average, a minus 10 per cent gap meaning women's average hourly wage is 10 per cent lower than men's and that they earn 90p for every PS1 men earn. …

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