It is 47 years since the Equal Pay Act and the National Pay Gap is currently 18.1%. In April 2018, employers with over 250 employees must publish data on the gap in pay between their male and female workers which in part is meant to ‘energise efforts towards equal pay’. Legislation, rather disappointingly, only looks at gender and excludes other key issues such as disability, ethnicity and contract type.
This impending legislation has prompted a plethora of surveys and research papers from highly reputable institutions. They all seek to analyse how the UK compares to the rest of the world and answer the question why median wages for women working full time are 85% of those of their male co-workers. The statistics speak volumes and all concerned acknowledge there are serious issues.
Having operated in large professional environments for over three decades and for the past ten years worked with SME’s; the reasons for the gap seem so obvious. Women are still the main primary carers and have ‘career changing moments’. They have children. They take time off in the form of maternity leave. They look after aged parents. They are the ones typically impacted because of a disability of a close family member. These activities often take place when they are at a stage in their careers when they are due their first or second promotion. This has an impact on their level in the hierarchy so when their co-workers are getting further promotions, they return to work in catch up mode.
Our Executive Search clients always look for diverse shortlists for their middle and senior management hires; not just covering gender, but diversity in its true sense so that they have a balanced workforce. Finding those senior diverse candidates, including those with disabilities, is always more of a challenge and from a Search perspective requires intensive traditional research which leaves no stone unturned.
We work with businesses, both small and large, who will pay the same for talent, regardless of gender. Where we have an issue is the supply of that talent, not demand. Those primary carers have taken time out and are playing catch up when they return – not just with money, but with their position in the hierarchy. If they have been off for an extended period, they are not always on the radar.
What can be done?
Organisations can do many things to address the gap; their Reward Strategy can be more creative, thereby stopping the current trend of making a bad situation worse; they can fast track returners to work though specifically designed ‘High Potential Returner Talent Programmes’; they can encourage work on a truly flexible and pragmatic basis during periods of time off; they can be more receptive to considering candidates who have been out of an organisation for an extended period.
Pragmatic ways to alleviate the gender pay gap will no doubt be criticised by some as Positive Discrimination. However, to keep doing the same things we already do and expecting things to change is, to paraphrase Einstein, the definition of stupidity!