Only one in five employers has a plan to fix their gender pay gap

Government watchdog urges businesses to publish strategies to demonstrate commitment to change

Organisations must go beyond simply publishing data and commit to transparent action plans if they are to genuinely narrow their gender pay gaps, according to a new report from a government equalities watchdog.

Research published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found only one in five employers had published a plan outlining how they were going to tackle their gender pay gap.

Of the 440 reports assessed as part of the Closing the gender pay gap report, only 11 per cent contained targets that would enable organisations to measure progress year on year. 

Rebecca Hilsenrath, CEO of the EHRC, said: “Earlier this year, gender pay gap reporting shone a light on some of the issues women face. As we head towards the second year of reporting, the attention now needs to shift towards employers who must play their part in reducing the gap, starting with publicly setting out how they intend to address it in their organisation.”

The figures contrast with an official report by the Government Equalities Office (GEO) which suggested that at the time reporting closed earlier this year, just under half (48 per cent) of employers had decided to publish an action plan outlining how they intend to tackle their gender pay gap. 

In April 2018, the first wave of reporting across 10,000 organisations employing more than 250 staff revealed more than three-quarters had a median pay gap that favoured men, while 80 per cent had more women working in low-paid roles than senior positions. 

While currently the publication of action plans, like narratives, is not mandatory, the EHRC warned employers should do so in order to demonstrate a real commitment to reducing the gap.

Hilsenrath added that specific and time-bound action plans could do more than just identify the barriers holding women back in the workplace: “They can help to create an environment where female employees can flourish, as well as demonstrate to employees, customers and shareholders a commitment to improving working practices, and can enhance the organisation’s reputation.“

Charles Cotton, reward adviser for the CIPD, said it supported the calls for action as “this will help to demonstrate to employees, investors and customers what action is being taken by an organisation, over what time period, and the progress to date.” 

The EHRC report also revealed that in many cases, employers’ action plans made general reference to activities they would undertake, such as “reviewing flexible working policies”, without committing to a time frame or, in some cases, their purpose for doing so.

Sam Smethers, CEO of the Fawcett Society said: “We have consistently argued that publishing an action plan should be a statutory requirement. Even fewer have set targets.  This is worrying, and indicates that gender pay gap reporting in itself will fail to have the desired effect unless other steps are taken.”

The report recommended several elements integral to a good action plan, such as anonymising CVs and application forms, adopting transparent recruitment and promotion procedures and advertising all jobs as open to flexible working from day one. 

It concluded: “Publication of data is only the first step. The published figures are useful in providing a high-level snapshot of pay within an organisation, but if the gender pay gap is to be closed, the underlying causes need to be identified and effectively tackled. 

“The publication of a narrative report containing a detailed action plan will help employers to publicly demonstrate their commitment to creating workplaces where everyone can flourish, irrespective of whether they are male or female.”

A Government Equalities Office spokesperson said: “Last year the UK introduced groundbreaking regulations requiring all large employers to publish their gender pay gaps. These world-leading regulations increase transparency and push employers to take real steps towards closing the gap.

“Over 10,000 employers reported in the first year, but we know this is just the start. We are now working with organisations to help them understand their pay gaps, and have published guidance to support them to take actions that have proven track records when it comes to closing the gap. While the UK gender pay gap is the lowest it has ever been, we are committed to eliminating the gender pay gap entirely, so that everyone can reach their potential in the workplace.”