Public sector gender pay gap fractionally widens in second round of reporting

1 Apr 2019 By Emily Burt

Experts warn that organisations must not treat reporting as a ‘tick-box exercise’, as many fail to publish accompanying narratives

The second round of gender pay reporting for public sector organisations has revealed a median pay gap of 14.2 per cent as of 31 March 2019 – a fractional increase on the first round of reporting (14 per cent) in 2017/18. 

In total, 1,594 public sector sector organisations filed data in time for the reporting deadline (March 31), compared to 1,683 in 2018, with a minimal growth of the overall median gap.

Despite the increase, the public sector gap remained lower overall than the national average for 2018 (18.4 per cent).

Of public sector organisations that filed data, more than 88 per cent reported a median pay gap in favour of men.

Snapshot data of 1,451 public sector organisations compiled by the CIPD’s labour market economist Jon Boys on Friday (29 March) revealed average pay gaps had grown by 0.4 per cent in the education sector, 0.6 per cent in human health activities, and 1.45 per cent in the police services. 

By contrast, the average median pay gap among local authorities, central government bodies and the fire service had narrowed by 1.95 per cent, 0.2 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively. 

Commenting on the figures, Sarah Henchoz, partner at Allen & Overy, said the lack of any significant movement within the public sector was “unsurprising”. 

“As most gaps arise due to a lack of senior women, focused recruitment and positive action targeting female talent will be required to really shift the dial. The progress is likely to have been made behind the scenes, ensuring that there are women in the pipeline to be promoted to senior positions,” she told People Management

“The knock-on effect of increased salaries for promoted women will contribute to reducing the gender pay gap [but] this is a long-term goal and so we are unlikely to see any real reduction until the reporting years ending in April 2021/22.”

According to analysis from The Guardian, 44 of the 50 public sector bodies with the biggest pay gaps were organisations that run multi-academy schools, while a separate review into pay data within the NHS revealed an overall gender pay gap of 23 per cent, and 17 per cent for doctors, based on total pay. 

Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion advisor at the CIPD, described the failure to narrow the public sector pay gap as “disappointing”, but stressed it would take longer than a year for organisations to see significant results. 

"This only the second year of reporting, so it is likely to take longer for gender pay gap initiatives to embed and produce significant falls. Some initiatives to close the gender pay gap could also initially result in it widening, such as bringing more women into entry-level roles,” she told People Management

As year-on-year changes are unlikely to produce notable results, reward experts have previously said the emphasis on companies should be on providing narratives behind their numbers. “Last year just a third of the data set provided any form of narrative, which was a lost opportunity when it came to quantifying the numbers,” reward expert Ruth Thomas said. 

Of the 1,594 public sector organisations who filed data by 31 March, 1,081 included web links in the ‘gender pay report’ section of their data – however, many of these redirect to home pages, or gender pay reports from the previous year rather than supplying any updated information, suggesting many organisations may be more focused on compliance than exploring the underlying reasons behind their data. 

“Organisations need to focus on understanding their gender pay gap and taking tangible steps to address it and drive change. Gender pay reporting shouldn't be a tick-box exercise,” McCartney said. 

“Organisations need to understand the extent to which their working practices, and sometimes their culture, negatively affect women's employment prospects and opportunities for progression."

As of this morning (1 April), three organisations had already filed gender pay data for the 2019/20 reporting year. Reading Borough Council, Solent NHS Trust and The Enquire Learning Trust reported median gender pay gaps of 5 per cent, 0.5 per cent, and 33 per cent respectively, ahead of the 31 March 2020 deadline.

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