Earlier this year David Cameron announced much-lauded plans to make companies with more than 250 employees publish figures on the average pay gap between men and women.
The rules are enshrined in law as a new clause to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill and are due to come into effect in April next year following a national consultation 'Closing the gender pay gap’ which was carried out in July this year.
The rules will eventually extend to the public sector and to information about bonuses given to staff in addition to salary details.
At present, it is not clear what information should be published or where publication needs to take place. However, employers with disparate pay structures may face legal recourse if they show significant differences between pay for male and female employees.
This month Camden Council became the first organisation in the country to independently publish a pay analysis of its workforce by gender, disability and ethnicity.
The information went live on the Council’s website and revealed the pay of staff across the organisation, analysing differences at each job level by gender, ethnicity and disability. The council called its own action ‘a bold move’. It certainly was. The data showed that at one senior earning level women earned over 12 percent less than their male counterparts.
Meanwhile the target for women to take up one in four seats on the company boards of publicly listed businesses in the FTSE 350 share index is having a mixed response. The good news is that this year for the first time businesses in the FTSE 100 hit the target. The bad news is that a third of FTSE 350 companies told a FTSE/ICSA survey this summer that they would not reach the target by the end of the year, and nearly two-thirds had no plans for how they might do so.
All in all, it’s a mixed bag for equality, which, if it were to receive a school report would get a patronising pat on the head and a ‘could try harder’ comment.
Any measures introduced to address what is ultimately an injustice should be applauded. However, setting goals and naming and shaming those who contravene the rules does not tackle the underlying cause of gender imbalance. What’s really needed is a fundamental shift in society, which unfortunately is a lot harder to achieve.
Studies have shown that the pay gap increases for women over 40 who return to work after they have taken time out to raise children. More needs to be done for those who have taken time out and want to return to work. More also needs to be done to make it easier for those who want to have children and stay in the workforce.
In order to create a truly level playing field for the sexes we need to look at providing things like equal and interchangeable parental care leave for mothers and fathers, we need to look at equal flexi time provision for men and women, we need to look at affordable crèche provision and childcare and companies need to consider home working as a serious option.
And ultimately we need to start changing our attitudes about roles in society. We need to realise that equality is about treating everyone the same and being fair.