Mind the (Gender Pay) Gap

 

chb blog

By midnight on 4 April over 10,000 UK businesses had reported their gender pay gaps showing the median discrepancy in pay between men and women.  Amongst the extensive reporting and online opinions there is considerable confusion as to what the data means.  Our longstanding client, Karen Gill MBE, was clear that the data alone is meaningless, but behind it is a deeper story of the inequality that women continue to face in the workplace.  The success of the gender pay gap reporting is not in calling out firms who have better paid men than women, but in identifying the challenges these businesses face in engaging and progressing their female employees.

Why bother, some might say?  Many have cited women who choose to take time out from their careers to have children, some opt to return part time or not at all whilst others want an easier role that they can manage around family commitments.  A growing number care for older family members which is an issue that will only get bigger as our ageing population lives longer.  Parents have time to work out childcare around school holidays, less so around parents with dementia or age-related health issues.  All these are valid, but they paint a picture of women making constrained choices.  The lack of equal parental leave means the lion’s share of childcare falls to the mother whilst reluctance to embrace flexible working means those with caring responsibilities may be forced into lower paid roles.  Suddenly the “choice” isn’t quite so black and white.

Business and government are only too aware of the research that points to gender balanced workforces performing better through improved creativity and productivity.  With recruitment being one of the highest costs for business, there has never been a more crucial time for retention and progression to hit the (mostly male) boardroom agenda.

Here lies the real success of the gender pay gap report.  By recognising the stark lack of women in senior roles and acknowledging the fiscal argument for gender balanced teams, companies will need to ensure their female talent is engaged and progressing.  This won’t happen overnight and organisations like everywoman will help them to bridge the gap.  However meaningless the gender pay gap figures may seem to those taking them at face value, they are forcing discussion on a vital issue for British business and that’s where its true value lies.