Why does the UK continue to have a gender pay gap? Why does the UK continue to have a gender pay gap?

Why does the UK continue to have a gender pay gap?
11 Jun 2018

As the majority of UK companies complied with their obligations to publish gender pay gap data by 4 April 2018, the focus is now turning to why this pay gap persists.

But as a word of warning, the gender pay gap should not be confused with equal pay. The gender pay gap is a measure of the difference between men and women’s earnings across an organisation, whereas equal pay is when they are paid the same amount for effectively doing the same job.

There has been legislation in place for over 30 years to address equal pay issues, but the issue of why more women work in roles that are less well paid - which is what the gender pay gap data has demonstrated so far - raises both legal and social issues.

What do the figures show?

More than 10,000 companies reported their gender pay gap data, which showed that most women on average were paid less than men. Given that women make up about 47% of the workforce and girls generally perform well at school, the issue of why women are concentrated in employment sectors and roles where the scope for financial reward is not as great as men needs to be properly addressed.

Why does the gap persist?

There are many reasons behind the UK’s gender pay gap. More women than men still take primary responsibility for caring roles within their family – and the consequences of this situation can be far-reaching and long-lasting.

For example, more women find themselves in part time roles, where their options may be more limited career-wise. They also tend to have more “gaps” in their CV as they take time out to care for a young family or elderly relatives, often leaving them with less up-to-date, marketable skills when they want to return to work.

In addition, many women face unconscious stereotyping in the workplace. Some managers assume women do not want, or are unable to, accommodate a more demanding role while caring for a young family. Such assumptions should always be challenged and managers would be advised not to pre-judge the outcome of any such conversations.

Parity for men

The law currently does not offer men parity in relation to rights and opportunities for paid leave when they have young children. For many women, it is at this point in time that their future earning opportunities are most affected.

This situation is not the fault of male colleagues, many of whom may wish to take on more caring responsibilities within the family but find themselves unable to do so because they do not have the same independent legal right to leave and pay as women. Until there is a policy change at government level to create more equality in terms of caring opportunities and responsibilities between the genders, it will be difficult to close the gender pay gap.

Equality needs to be just that: men must be afforded independent rights to time off with pay to care for young children, while women need to be afforded the opportunity to take on senior positions as a matter of course without being shackled by stereotyping and assumptions.

Next steps

Gender pay gap reporting is not a one-off requirement. Most employers will now have the data in place to report for year two, but any shifts are expected to be marginal. As a result, developing short- and long-term plans to improve the gender pay gap at an organisational level is vital as is a commitment to bring about change. Shifts in corporate culture, and society, will not happen overnight - or even over the course of a year.

Emma Bartlett 

Emma Bartlett is a partner at Charles Russell Speechlys LLP. She advises on all aspects of employment law and has particular expertise in dispute resolution and litigation, notably discrimination, whistleblowing and trade union issues. With a strong record in negotiating and resolving complex employment disputes, Emma is considered a skilled deal broker.

 

As the majority of UK companies complied with their obligations to publish gender pay gap data by 4 April 2018, the focus is now turning to why this pay gap persists.

But as a word of warning, the gender pay gap should not be confused with equal pay. The gender pay gap is a measure of the difference between men and women’s earnings across an organisation, whereas equal pay is when they are paid the same amount for effectively doing the same job.

There has been legislation in place for over 30 years to address equal pay issues, but the issue of why more women work in roles that are less well paid - which is what the gender pay gap data has demonstrated so far - raises both legal and social issues.

What do the figures show?

More than 10,000 companies reported their gender pay gap data, which showed that most women on average were paid less than men. Given that women make up about 47% of the workforce and girls generally perform well at school, the issue of why women are concentrated in employment sectors and roles where the scope for financial reward is not as great as men needs to be properly addressed.

Why does the gap persist?

There are many reasons behind the UK’s gender pay gap. More women than men still take primary responsibility for caring roles within their family – and the consequences of this situation can be far-reaching and long-lasting.

For example, more women find themselves in part time roles, where their options may be more limited career-wise. They also tend to have more “gaps” in their CV as they take time out to care for a young family or elderly relatives, often leaving them with less up-to-date, marketable skills when they want to return to work.

In addition, many women face unconscious stereotyping in the workplace. Some managers assume women do not want, or are unable to, accommodate a more demanding role while caring for a young family. Such assumptions should always be challenged and managers would be advised not to pre-judge the outcome of any such conversations.

Parity for men

The law currently does not offer men parity in relation to rights and opportunities for paid leave when they have young children. For many women, it is at this point in time that their future earning opportunities are most affected.

This situation is not the fault of male colleagues, many of whom may wish to take on more caring responsibilities within the family but find themselves unable to do so because they do not have the same independent legal right to leave and pay as women. Until there is a policy change at government level to create more equality in terms of caring opportunities and responsibilities between the genders, it will be difficult to close the gender pay gap.

Equality needs to be just that: men must be afforded independent rights to time off with pay to care for young children, while women need to be afforded the opportunity to take on senior positions as a matter of course without being shackled by stereotyping and assumptions.

Next steps

Gender pay gap reporting is not a one-off requirement. Most employers will now have the data in place to report for year two, but any shifts are expected to be marginal. As a result, developing short- and long-term plans to improve the gender pay gap at an organisational level is vital as is a commitment to bring about change. Shifts in corporate culture, and society, will not happen overnight - or even over the course of a year.

Emma Bartlett 

Emma Bartlett is a partner at Charles Russell Speechlys LLP. She advises on all aspects of employment law and has particular expertise in dispute resolution and litigation, notably discrimination, whistleblowing and trade union issues. With a strong record in negotiating and resolving complex employment disputes, Emma is considered a skilled deal broker.

 

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