January, for many employees, is a time of gentle reintegration into the workplace; when gym-going and furious dieting are the main topics of conversation, and stretched pay packets mean desperate enquiries on the date of the next salary run. For HR teams up and down the UK, however, this January has been more pressured than normal.
There are just weeks to go until the deadline for companies with 250 employees or more to publish their gender pay gap data. By the turn of the year, only 500 of an estimated 9,000 affected employers had done so. Some that did publish faced unwelcome scrutiny, others were accused of producing ‘statistically improbable’ figures, while those with above-average gaps were pilloried in the press and on social media. And all the while, the heat is being turned up on this vital issue; the resignation of BBC international editor Carrie Gracie has focused national attention on the broader discussion.
Most commentators agree that, to varying degrees, the introduction of gender pay gap reporting is having a positive effect on the quality of public discourse and in forcing business and government to act on the more persistent issues that underpin pay inequality – even if the measures used for reporting are imperfect, reflecting inequality in progression and opportunity rather than salary in most cases.
But the hard work behind the figures should not be underestimated. Elysia McCaffrey, head of the Women in Business division at the Government Equalities Office – the department in charge of shaping the regulations and their accompanying guidance – believes it’s natural for employers to be cautious as they approach this first round of reporting. “We know that many are still in the process of calculating and, where employers have complex payroll arrangements, this could take a bit of time,” she says. “Nobody’s non-compliant at the moment, so employers may want to wait until they’re confident with their narrative before submitting.”
This also reflects the fact that many businesses fear facing difficult questions, whether from employees or from the media. Ingrid Waterfield from KPMG argues that many have sought safety in numbers rather than publishing early. “Lots of companies are taking a wait and see approach, particularly those that want to see how their own sector is doing. There is real concern about the reputational issues of reporting a significant gap given the recent press gender pay gaps are receiving,” she says.
The scrutiny some early reporters have been subjected to will also do little to reassure jittery firms. As People Management’s analysis of the first 570 submitted reports demonstrates, construction and financial services are the standout sectors with the biggest gaps, but other individual employers have been forced to add contextual commentary to particularly sizeable gaps.
Airline easyJet, for example, has a 52 per cent mean gender pay gap, but only 6 per cent of its pilots are women, so it has publicly committed to a target that 20 per cent of new entrant pilots to the company should be female by 2020. Retailer Phase Eight attracted criticism as women are on average paid almost 65 per cent less than men, as male staff occupy the majority of head office roles while shop workers tend to be female.
If your company is still to report, a good starting point is to consult the government reporting portal, where other employers in your sector may have published their figures and, more importantly, links to their accompanying narratives. Clare Bye, executive vice president for HR at engineering software firm Aveva, believes it’s important to pick the right moment for your business – and hers is yet to report.
“We decided to wait, and our narrative will reflect what we think is appropriate for our story, as we have several proactive initiatives in place. We’re also looking at ways other organisations are reporting,” she says. Aveva has been working for some years to bring more women into its specialist technical roles and its graduate and apprenticeship programmes.
“We currently have a 70/30 male/female split across all jobs, but this reduces to 80/20 in some specialist technical positions,” she says. HR was approached by several women in technical roles offering to support the business in tackling the gender split.
Together, they built a business case for a series of practical measures, including schools outreach and a bootcamp for women returners into technology. Bye is also considering tying gender representation targets to personal objectives, so that “managers have a ‘people P&L’ as well as revenue targets”.
Many companies have benefited from a ‘dry run’ of calculating their figures. “As soon as we knew what the government wanted from pay gap reporting, we engaged with the process and did a dry run six months before the requirements came into force,” says Frances Duffy, UK HR director of IT giant Capgemini. “This meant the process wasn’t new to us; we introduced the topic to our employees, and asked them how they felt we were doing in terms of diversity and inclusion, and what we could do to improve.”