Transparency and the gender pay gap
Last year, to comply with new government rules on gender pay transparency, the BBC released details of staff earning salaries of more than £150,000. The figures revealed that the highest paid female star was Claudia Winkleman, the host of Strictly Come Dancing, who earned £500,000, which paled significantly to the £2.2 million earned by the radio DJ and short-lived Top Gear front man Chris Evans.
This disparity, along with numerous other examples, led to an outcry that fired up the simmering national debate on the issue, and gender pay in the entertainment industry has been in the headlines ever since. Earlier this month, Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China editor, resigned from her post, citing the failure of the organisation to address this problem as the reason for her departure.
Now that the gender pay problem in the entertainment industry has been established, how well do other industries perform?
Not long after the BBC figures were released, the Office for National Statistics released figures on wages across every sector of the UK economy. These figures included details on the gender pay gap, which showed that the gap in average pay between men and women was 18.1 percent. This is the lowest gap since records began, but the gap remains considerable, particularly in some industries.
While there are some areas of employment where the gender pay gap favours women – midwifery, child minding, legal secretaries, dental nurses – overall pay inequality remains skewed heavily towards men across most industries and occupations.
The worst offending sectors are manufacturing and construction. Assemblers, metal working, welding and machining all showed gender pay gaps of 28 percent and higher. In the construction industry, it was 45 percent.
There was also a considerable absence of pay equality in the financial and accounting industries. Nearly half of all economists, actuaries and statisticians are women, yet the gender pay gap in these professions was 23.9 percent. For financial account managers it was 25 percent and for financial managers and directors it was 31.6 percent. Chief Executives and Senior Officials also performed poorly, with a gender pay gap of 25.8 percent.
The UK government’s response to this problem has been to push for greater transparency from employers. By April this year, around 9,000 major employers will be required to file information on their gender pay gap. However, there has been considerable resistance. A survey by consulting group Mercer found widespread scepticism, with one in ten respondents disagreeing with the principle of transparency.
There are legitimate objections to transparency, but mainly on the grounds that it doesn’t go far enough. For instance, some companies have argued that if the government were to get behind the concept of shared parental leave, along the Icelandic or Swedish lines, that would do more to close the gender pay gap than publishing statistics.
Despite this objection, and the reluctance of some companies to comply with transparency, it remains a worthwhile exercise. History shows that it is only when the gender pay gap is brought into the open that change occurs. Back in 2011, a report by Lord Davies highlighted how few women were in top jobs. The result was a push to increase the proportion of women in the boardroom to 25 percent by 2015, a target that has been met.
While the shock and initial bad publicity of revealing gender pay gap statistics may be off-putting for organisations, it also offers them an opportunity to publicise what steps they are taking to promote equality in the workplace. Transparency may not be comfortable for organisations, but it is a necessary first step if we are to change outdated employment and recruitment practices and to close the gender pay gap.
Is the gender pay gap a problem in your business? What steps are you taking to reduce the issue?
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