The gender pay gap is an issue that just won’t go away. Perhaps the most high-profile recent case was when BBC presenter Samira Ahmed launched an equal pay case arguing that she was paid 85% less than her male equivalent, Points of View host Jeremy Vine. The employment tribunal unanimously decided in favour of Ahmed, saying her work was like that carried out by Vine and the BBC had failed to prove the £700,000 gap in salary was not because of sex discrimination.
The case prompted a full-scale inquiry within the corporation – and placed the issue of the gender pay gap firmly in the spotlight, where it has remained ever since, says Emma Robinson, founder and MD of Red Diamond Executive Headhunters.
Understand the issue
Since 2017, it has been mandatory for organisations with 250 employees or more to publish specific figures about their gender pay gap. And while using good quality data will help a company understand the reasons why the pay gap exists, this is not the same as putting discrepancies right.
At the root of the issue, says Emma, is accepting that paying a woman less for doing the same job as a man is fundamentally wrong and unacceptable. “Discrimination laws were passed in 1970 that made things like this illegal – yet we’re still talking about it and still fighting for a fair deal,” she said.
“Some dinosaur companies have used maternity leave, for example, as an excuse to pay women less, often relying on the fact that we might return to work on reduced hours or with different responsibilities. For other businesses, this may have been an oversight but in either case, the effect is the same – the woman is losing out. One simple way of addressing this is to encourage shared childcare so that women are not losing out because they have taken maternity leave.”
Transparency is key
In order to eradicate the gender pay gap – along with any other irregularities – transparency is vital. In an organisation where everyone knows the salary structure, policies and processes, keeping track of what employees should be earning is simpler.
A business with clear processes and objective decision-making, based on skills and evidence, can reduce inequalities in pay, promotions and rewards.
Emma said that in some cases, this may be easier to implement in a large organisation rather than a smaller company but if everyone understands from day one what they should be taking home and why irregularities should be more obvious.
Audit and assess
So how do you ensure your organisation is open and transparent about its wage structure? Emma advised carrying out a regular audit on the pay structure would ensure everyone knew where they stood. “If you’re appointed as an MD or an HR director, one of your priorities should be to carry out an audit into the salary structure and, crucially, to publish it,” she said. “If you feel you need to carry out assessments, there are lots of evaluation processes available – psychometrics, for example – that can be used to assess people’s skills and abilities.”
Benchmarking and policy
Benchmarking your organisation against the industry standard is an excellent way to identify irregularities and performance gaps in all areas of a business. While it is often applied against products, it can also be used to assess processes and approaches, focusing on measuring quality, time, cost-effectiveness and customer satisfaction.
A good place to start is with figures from the Office for National Statistics, that in April showed that on average, across the board in full-time roles, men still earn 7.4% more than women doing the same job.
In the recruitment industry, agencies now have the option to hold back details such as name, age and gender to ensure every applicant is judged purely on their experience and skills, with some even investing in AI technology to eliminate bias from the shortlisting process.
Organisations with their own HR departments must apply a similar mindset to ensure that fair and appropriate pay policies are in place. Some may decide to always include at least two women on a shortlist; others may choose to appoint a diversity manager tasked with addressing discrepancies in the salary and recruitment processes.
Still ahead of the game
Although you may be alarmed that significant pay gaps do still exist, in the UK we are actually making good progress compared with other countries. In a traditionally male-dominated sector, female candidates may find they have to be way ahead of their male counterparts just to be considered, said Emma. “We recruited in China recently for one position,” she said. “Not only were the female candidates infinitely superior in terms of skill set and ability, they only took home around half as much in salary as the men.”
Emma added: “I really believe 2021 will be a brilliant year for the women who really go for it – those who are ready to grasp opportunities. The pandemic has seen an increase in flexible working; being the biggest personality in the office matters less when you spend half your time working remotely, so I think we will see a refocusing on skills rather than charisma and personality. The results and analytics will speak for themselves and can play a vital role in eradicating this archaic discrepancy.”