I have just spent a happy hour reading the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ The Gender Wage Gap IFS Briefing Note BN186. That it is not a bodice-ripper I’ll grant you. In fact it is typical IFS report: detailed, data-driven, structured and balanced. It is one of a series of papers that have been of such assistance to fellow-policy wonks and sufferers from insomnia. The paper showed that the gender pay gap was closing, albeit slowly. It pointed to various features of the data that needed further explanation – notably the widening of the gender pay gap after the arrival of the first child.
I thought I would check the press coverage.
“Women in UK see pay gap widen after having children” agreed The Daily Mail
While Mirror readers were treated to Alison Phillips’s trenchant summation: “…there is nothing fair about this debate. Women are being punished for procreating. Fined for our Fallopian tubes.”
This is all on the back of a research paper from Britain’s favourite policy wonks. What will happen when UK companies are obliged to publish their own breakdown of gender and pay? They must do this by no later than April 2018.
I think I can guess.
Without a really good set of numbers it won’t be a pretty sight. For any company with particularly bad numbers, it will be carnage.
Companies are quite likely to compound their problems in the way the data is presented. A bald presentation of the figures just won’t do. This is an issue that demands more. It’s not just where you are now. It’s:
- how have you already improved performance?
- what are your processes for greater fairness?
- when will they come to fruition?
- how do you compare to others and external benchmarks?
- how are you promoting improvement, monitoring improvement, measuring improvement?
- have your employees, most especially women, been engaged in how to put things right?
Less favourable treatment between men and women in pay and conditions has been illegal since the Equal Pay Act of 1970. As I look round my colleagues I see the vast majority of them were not born in 1970. Employers have had a long time to get this one right.
Companies need to approach this issue with humility, empathy and great care.
Get it wrong and your employees, the press and the public really will conclude that your HR policies are in the hands of Sid the Sexist.