Once upon a time.........?

Kelly Thomson, Legal Director in the Employment team at international law firm RPC asks if reaching true gender equality can be anything other than a fairy tale?  Kelly advises clients on all aspects of employment law, with a particular focus on the people aspects of organisational change and is passionate about issues of diversity and inclusion.


"Mummy, boys and girls can do all the same things except grow a baby" my 6-year-old son tells me.  My 4-year-old daughter agrees.  We love to read about Julia Donaldson's Princess Pearl eschewing the life of a princess in favour of becoming a flying doctor, travelling the world on the back of Zog the dragon with a (male) knight as her assistant.  I feel a warm glow of pride that we are raising these brilliantly fair-minded people.  I wonder; is theirs the first generation that will work in a world without any gender pay gap?

Transparency as a catalyst for change
It has long been recognised that a lack of transparency around pay and progression can only hinder our collective progress towards closing the gender pay gap.  This April finally heralded the introduction of new legislation specifically aimed at increasing such transparency.  Employers covered by the new law are now obliged, every year, to actively measure and then publically report their own gender pay gaps.  For private sector employers, the first set of information relates to a "snapshot date" of 5 April 2017 and must be gathered, analysed and published by 4 April 2018.  Publication is on the organisation's own website and a government portal.  The regulations merit detailed review and understanding.  Employers must publish six sets of data: two different measures of their gender pay gap; two different measures of their gender bonus gap; the proportion of men and women receiving a bonus and the proportion of men and women distributed by quartile pay bands. 

Whether to go beyond the strict legislative requirements and consider additional, broader metrics is a matter for each organisation to decide.  Employers must balance the potential advantages and risks (including legal risks) of a deeper review of the data.  Some organisations will decide to accompany their raw statistics with substantive narrative to set the data in the context of their own diversity story.

Equal pay alone does not equal true equality
If an organisation pays its men and women the same for the same job it might have achieved equality of pay.  But this alone does not equate to true gender equality.  If there is a bottleneck in the organisation's talent pipeline, resulting in a disproportionately male management team, the employer will have a gender pay gap.  Unequal pay and the gender pay gap are two different, albeit related, issues. 

This is because the gender pay gap isn't really about pay.  The gender pay gap is about female progression in its broadest sense.  It is about early stereotyping and the different subject choices boys and girls make at school and beyond.  It is about the concentration of women in lower paid sectors and in lower paid roles (and men in higher paid sectors and roles, like that male management team).  It is about the comparative value which we as a society ascribe to different types of work.  It is about the impact of maternity leave - remember that caveat "except grow a baby"?  It is about the disproportionately female penalties of part-time working; of eldercare and of "sandwich caring" responsibilities.  And yes, to a degree, it is about unconscious bias and some old-fashioned discrimination.  Myriad factors interrelate to create a national gender pay gap of, currently, 18.1% meaning that, on average, for every £1 a man earns, a woman earns just 82p. 

Boys and girls can do the same things.  But until they are doing the same things, the gap persists. 

We all hope that the new reporting requirements do promote real and tangible change.  My own view is that the regulations alone are not a panacea but they do offer an opportunity to assess and better understand progress and blockers to gender diversity.  I think this is a small but positive step towards ensuring that true equality might one day find its way off the pages of those fairy tales.

 If you would like to be added to the mailing list for RPC's Gender Pay Gap Reporting workshops please email: laura.gill@rpc.co.uk.