The gender pay gap issue…is it as simple as it looks?

The gender pay gap issue…is it as simple as it looks?

Turn on any TV, surf any news site, or pick up any paper, and you’re bound to find something that talks about the ‘gender pay gap’. New laws have been introduced that force companies with a workforce of more than 250 people to publish details of their employees’ pay.

Any gaps in pay will now be in full view of the public, and not something that goes on behind closed (company) doors.

So, what can we take from the statistics, and what impact do they actually have?

The words ‘gender pay gap’ could suggest women and men are being paid less for the same job, which is not (or, at least, should not be) the case. The statistics, concerning employees’ pay, are based on averages – they’re not comparing like-for-like roles.

That men are more commonly in executive positions, and women in part-time roles - particularly during their child-bearing years – is what really affects the figures. This is what constitutes the gap, and it encompasses much more than salary. It includes equal progression through a company, flexible working and family-friendly measures, maternity/paternity policies, discrimination, the glass ceiling, the loaded question of good work/life balance, and more.

But are these things all the fault of the company? Surely the (mainly) women who opt for lower-paid roles do so out of choice – employers don’t arm-wrestle women into taking such positions; if a man wanted to work part-time in a lower-paid role, how many companies would stop him? Do men want to take on such jobs?

Is it, therefore, down to society’s influence, that women’s careers tend to be put on hold if a couple starts a family – as they opt for part-time, family-friendly hours more suited to the demands of raising kids? Research shows that the UK’s gender pay gap would be slashed by 21% if men and women shared the lower-paid roles.

The media’s focus seems to be on gaps within the top roles of a company; if there was less disparity at the bottom of the career ladder, the pay gap would practically be eradicated. Conor D’Arcy, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, says, “It’s brilliant that the gender pay gap is receiving more scrutiny. The coverage so far has mainly focused on gaps that result from a lack of women in senior positions in a firm, or the pay of women at prominent organisations such as the BBC. These stories need telling, but so too do the stories of the ‘silent majority’ of low-paid women."

Gender pay gap figures are also affected by industry. Sports, construction, and other typically male-dominated industries pay men more – because there are more of them to drive up the average. Does this, then, not point to encouraging more women into these industries, rather than focusing on what they pay them when they get there?

The simple fact is: equal pay laws have been around for 50 years. It’s illegal to pay a man more for the same role than if a woman took the position. Recruiters have a duty to report any breaches they see in this respect, when salaries are advertised or discussed with the employer.

Says Angela Bortolussi, partner at Recruiting Social, “Recruiters are often the ones who present offers to candidates. We get to see which candidates get offered how much. That puts us in a position to see when there is a gap between men and women.”

Judgments are often made unconsciously. One way to help reduce bias is to forward candidates’ CVs to the employer with names removed, so that any evaluation is on skills and experience alone. It’s then easier to arrive at a salary range that encompasses what a client is actually worth to the company, rather than what the employer thinks they should be paid because of their gender.

Recruiters can also advise their clients when it comes to encouraging fathers to take parental leave, and/or helping them to create family-friendly/part-time/job share options in senior positions.

Public spending on childcare could also help this – it’s not fair to leave all the work up to employers. And the government is hardly in a position to call out businesses on recruitment equality: only 32% of their workforce is female; women in the House of Lords represent just 26%.

Publishing the gender pay gap statistics gives us an excuse to talk about equality at work, but nothing will change if it’s all hot air and no action….

 

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