One in 10 employers confess to paying women less than men

27 Jul 2017 By Georgi Gyton

Experts ‘shocked but not surprised’, as almost half of HR professionals say new reporting requirements won’t reduce gender pay gaps

One in 10 employers admit to paying women less than men for jobs of the same level, a new YouGov survey has revealed.

The survey, carried out on behalf of the charity Young Women’s Trust, suggests that gender pay differentials span all levels of employment, with female apprentices paid, on average, 21 per cent less than their male counterparts – leaving them £2,000 a year worse-off.

The media spotlight is currently fixed on the issue of the so-called ‘gender pay gap’ after the BBC recently revealed details of employees who earn more than £150,000 per year – highlighting a huge difference between men and women carrying out similar duties, and in the number of men in more highly paid roles than women.

However, nearly half (44 per cent) of the 800 HR decision-makers questioned in the YouGov survey said publishing pay gaps would not make a difference to pay, while a fifth said equal pay will never be achieved. The findings also revealed that, despite there often being an air of secrecy around the discussion of pay, 10 per cent of respondents in the private sector and 13 per cent in the public sector said they were aware of women being paid less in their workplace.

Dr Carole Easton OBE, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, said gender pay reporting was a great step forward but it “does not go far enough to close the gap”.

“The new legislation will only be effective if the government puts in place and enforces penalties for firms that fail to report their pay gaps accurately,” Easton said. “Where pay gaps do exist, like at the BBC, the Young Women’s Trust would like to see that companies are obliged to put in place plans to reduce them.”

Chloé Chambraud, gender research and policy manager at Business in the Community, said the survey findings were “shocking, but sadly not surprising”.

“Although unequal pay has been illegal since 1970, our research shows that nearly half of female employees believe that it is currently happening in their organisation,” she added. 

“While it is understandable – if disappointing – that employers may have a gender pay gap for various reasons, such as women being concentrated in lower-paid roles and sectors, it is unacceptable to see that so many employers are still tolerating unequal pay issues in 2017.”

Chambraud said publishing pay data would help employers to understand where and why any gender pay gaps existed, and enable them to take action. “However, simply publishing a set of figures is not a magic bullet,” she admitted. “Employers need to understand those causes – including whether unequal pay is a contributing factor – to tackle it.”

Since the gender pay gap reporting window for organisations with more than 250 employees opened in April, only 38 employers have published their results. It has been suggested that firms are holding back in the hope that their results are buried in a flurry of activity nearer the deadline, or that they are waiting to see what the reaction is to competitors’ results and what story they tell. 

Charles Cotton, performance and reward adviser at the CIPD, expects publishing pay gap information to stimulate debate. “There are certain factors that explain the gap that are perhaps outside the control of employers,” he said. But there are interventions that organisations can make, he added. For example, employers in traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as engineering, could do more to encourage women into the profession; young women could be encouraged to study STEM subjects at school; and shared parental leave could be more widely encouraged.

“We want organisations to look at this issue and say ‘what can we do to deal with fairness in the organisation?’ rather than going into defence mode,” he said. “It is important they don’t see it as a risk, but as an opportunity. Let’s think about where the direction of travel is going.”

Cotton also pointed out the importance of businesses explaining their gender pay differentials. “Organisations may employ a lot of female apprentices, which could actually increase the gender pay gap, so it’s important to have a narrative around the figures,” he said.

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