There are just over two months left for 9,000 businesses of over 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap. And at the time of writing, just over 700 employers have done so. With time rapidly running out, it seems increasingly likely that many firms will miss the 5 April deadline (31 March for public sector organisations).

Gender pay gap reporting was introduced by the UK government to highlight the difference between the average earnings of men and women across large companies. The idea being that if organisations identify a significant gap, they could then take steps to address it.

The gender pay gap isn’t the same as equal pay. The latter is written into law and means that men and women performing the same or similar jobs must receive equal pay, as set out in the Equality Act of 2010. Where it starts getting hazy is trying to decide whether similar jobs are of equal value, as Asda and Sainsbury’s have discovered: the supermarkets are each facing a class action for paying predominantly male warehouse staff more than predominantly female store staff.

Doubts about data

For companies that have published their pay gaps, the average difference in pay is somewhere between 10-25% lower for women, and in some cases – such as fashion retailer Phase Eight – more than 60% lower.

Then there are the handful of firms reporting women earning between 6-13% more than men, such as Evans Cycles and Unilever, while some businesses, including the British Museum, claim they have a 0% gender pay gap.

And finally, there are the small group of companies that have altered their pay gap data multiple times since first filing it. Hugo Boss’s UK division, for instance, recently changed its mean pay gap from 0% to 32.6% before reducing it to 7.2% – all in the eyebrow-raising space of nine days.

Prioritising the gender pay gap

To tackle the foot-dragging attitude many businesses seem to have towards the gender pay gap, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently discussing ways to punish those that fail to share their gender pay gap data and for reporting inaccurate results. Punitive measures could include unlimited fines or convictions, although this would require the support of a tough legal framework – something that isn’t yet available.

Official UK figures reveal that the gap in average pay between men and women in all types of employment stands at 18.1%. Various reasons commonly given to explain the disparity are:

  • More women working in part-time positions
  • Less women in senior roles
  • Company culture
  • Lack of flexible working
  • Unconscious bias
  • More women working in lower paid jobs/sectors

The general public will be curious to learn whether men or women are paid equally – a fact that won’t be immediately obvious from this round of pay gap data. The true explanation for an organisation’s gender pay gap, though, may make equality issues apparent once companies run an equal pay audit – either through choice or, should they lose an equal pay claim, by law.

3R Strategy helps some of the UK’s biggest companies make informed pay and reward decisions. If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch.