Closing the gender pay gap ‘is not about fixing women’, experts say

11 May 2018 By Emily Burt

Figures suggest only a third of employees feel comfortable discussing pay data with their manager

Organisations must not leave the responsibility of closing the pay gap to women changing their behaviours, experts yesterday urged at a panel event hosted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in Westminster.

Launching a new report, The state of pay: Demystifying the gender pay gap, expert speakers – including Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, Catherine Colebrook, chief economist at the IPPR, and Emma Codd, managing partner for talent at professional services firm Deloitte – discussed the challenges facing organisations in the aftermath of the first round of gender pay reporting. 

“This is not about ‘fixing women’,” Codd said. “I get so frustrated hearing ‘we need to boost their confidence’. I don’t need to fix the amazing women in my organisation. I need to fix the environment that causes these issues.” 

Creasy added: “There’s a persistent idea that it is for women to address these issues, and their behaviour – how they ‘choose’ to take time off, or move to agile and flexible working – and very few stories that talk about men changing their behaviours.”

Organisations with more than 250 employees had until April to publish details of their gender pay gaps. Of the more than 10,000 public and private sector organisations that met the deadline, 78 per cent paid men more than women, while the national median gender pay gap was calculated at 18.4 per cent. 

Creasy, who helped launch #PayMeToo – a cross-party coalition of MPs committed to closing the gender pay gap – discussed the initial findings gathered by an ongoing survey being run by the group to capture anecdotal experiences around gender pay. The majority of respondents were women.

While Creasy praised the conversations people were having about gender pay data, she expressed dismay that only a third (32 per cent) felt able to talk about the reporting results with their managers. By comparison, three in five (60 per cent) survey respondents had talked about the figures with their co-workers. 

“This survey has thrown up a lot of evidence of cultural issues within organisations, with women reporting their difficulty in discussing this issue with male bosses,” Creasy said.

The state of pay report put forward several recommendations for organisations seeking to close their gender pay gap, including rethinking policy around pay negotiation, ruling out the possibility of salary negotiation altogether and matching salaries to make sure new recruits earn the same as all employees working at their level. 

“We know women are less likely to negotiate on salary when they apply for a job and are less likely to put themselves forward for promotions,” Colebrook said. “We can reduce the responsibility for people to elbow themselves into a more senior position by making progression opportunities as structured as possible.” 

Further recommendations include encouraging greater numbers of men to work flexibly, and pressing organisations to publish clearer narratives alongside their gender pay reports to enable a more balanced analysis of future data. 

However, Colebrook stressed that initiatives to close the gender pay gap must be considered in the context of the wider working world.

“There is a strong relationship between gender pay and hourly pay – the lower the hourly pay, the lower the pay gap,” she said. “So if we focus on gender pay in isolation we might find ourselves celebrating organisations that pay low wages across the board.”

Companies that failed to meet last month’s gender pay reporting deadline could now face legal action from the Equality and Human Rights Commission for non-disclosure. It was reported yesterday that fewer than 500 companies were now facing investigation after failing to meet an extended deadline, although 1,500 organisations were initially contacted about missing the April date. 

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