Will mandatory pay audits ensure sexual equality?

A quarter of a century has passed since laws were introduced to ensure men
and women are paid equally for doing the same work. Yet, the Equal
Opportunities Commission reports that nearly 20 per cent of women are still
earning less than men. Is it time to make pay audits mandatory, as recommended
by the Equal Pay Taskforce, or will the Government’s preferred voluntary
approach bring an end to pay inequality? Compiled by Sarah-Jane North

Juris Grinbergs
Group HR director at Littlewoods, member of Equal Pay Taskforce

The voluntary app-roach has so far seen little take up of pay audits and no
general move towards looking at ways of closing the gap. It was our (the
taskforce’s) reluctant view that perhaps mandatory pay audits are now
necessary, with the full recognition that such a recommendation would elicit a
fairly strong reaction. That is why we went for the two-stage model of
introducing mandatory audits, so as to avoid the heavily administrative,
cumbersome route.

One of the issues that bedevilled the Taskforce was getting hold of robust
market data. But, certainly one suspects that there are sectors where the pay
gap is larger than others, in particular those with high levels of part-time
and seasonal workers and therefore by definition, high numbers of female
employees. Such characteristics suggest that is where a pay gap would be found.

I strongly support employers being proactive on this issue.

As there is currently no mandatory way of auditing, employers have the
choice of how they do it. In the Shroders case (in which a female broker
successfully claimed discrimination after receiving a smaller bonus than male
colleagues), I suspect some sort of high-level assessment of bonus payments in
relation to the gender split would have suggested a problem.

Pay auditing doesn’t have to be massively bureaucratic and many employers
are already doing it as a matter of course.

Susan Anderson
Director of human resources policy, The Confederation of British Industry

The Government’s proposals are about
tackling the different causes of the gender pay gap – not just unfair
discrimination. The CBI believes pay inequality results from the choices women
make, careers they choose and the time they spend out of the labour market
because of childcare responsibilities. It is more sensible to tackle these
issues than to impose ineffective legislation on all employers to curb the
discriminatory practices of a few.

We need to give more choices to women trying to balance work
with family responsibilities. That means we want better childcare facilities
and improved career advice.

Business will play its part in helping to develop a voluntary
pay review system. We will seek to make sure it is simple and flexible and can
deal with increasingly complex pay systems. We will continue to promote
family-friendly working wherever possible.

Nick Page
Adviser on pay, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

We support the Government’s voluntary
approach. We are not convinced that compulsory auditing would have an impact on
the equal pay problem. The problem is very complex. On one level this problem
is to do with the work that we as a society value, our education system and the
way in which we deal with people’s aspirations. These issues are at the heart
of the problem and you cannot legislate for them.

Some problems are structural in that pay systems may reward more
"male-orientated" activities than female activities. Employers can
tackle such attitudes themselves. The long-term solution is to change the types
of work that we value. But such value judgements are deeply embedded in the
national psyche. We believe it is better to raise awareness of the equal pay
issue and seek a voluntary approach to it.

Jenny
Watson
Deputy chair, Equal Opportunities Commission

Pay discrimination will continue to
affect women’s pay packets until all employers routinely review their pay
systems.

The Equal Pay Task Force’s report on pay discrimination was
based on evidence gathered from employers and pay specialists and on the
findings of a programme of research commissioned by the EOC. A key finding was
that while the vast majority of employers were confident, they paid fairly,
very few had ever actually done a review to check they were right.

The report focuses on what can be done to raise awareness among
employers. It also recommends a change in the law that would require employers
to carry out simple checks on their pay systems. The EOC fully endorses the
Task Force’s proposals. Until legal change requires all employers to confront
this issue then many women will still be denied a fair deal at work.

Clara
Freeman
Chairman, Opportunity Now (a business in the community campaign for
equality)

Our members have always been at the
vanguard of fairness for women in the workforce, which is a much broader issue
than just pay. Women make up half the potential workforce and at the moment,
with low unemployment and the war for talent, it is in the interests of
employers to attract people and that means treating men and women fairly.

We back the voluntary approach (to improving equality) and
would gladly work with the Government and other bodies to understand the issues
that feed into the lack of fair pay, which involves all sorts of things such as
recruitment rates, access to training and promotion and the way in which
performance appraisals are conducted.

There is legislation in place already, but the good thing about
the taskforce report is that it has put the issue at the top of the agenda for
business leaders.

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