Of all the benchmarks of equality in the workforce the one that really counts is pay. Yet few will be surprised that the latest research shows that after 25 years of sex discrimination and pay equality legislation there is still an 18 per cent pay gap between the sexes.
The individuals who understand the practices needed to bring about pay equality are HR professionals. Depressingly, however, research from the Equal Opportunities Commission reveals that HR is not being allowed to use the tools of its trade to bring about change. Eight out of 10 HR managers are not responsible for supervising equal pay policy and even fewer are in charge of job evaluation.
This is not to say that the HR profession can solve the problem of pay inequality on its own. Some of the causes are due to deep-rooted cultural attitudes and the segregation of men and women into different jobs – and these could take many decades to unravel. On top of this, the HR director in the manufacturing sector has to achieve a delicate balancing act between promoting fairness in the workplace and ensuring the economic survival of the business.
But in those industries where the only obstacle to fair pay is the outdated attitudes of senior management, the HR professional must work hard to get the business case across. In the modern economic climate staff recruitment and retention, and the public reputation of organisations, are key business issues.
Government proposals to speed up the tribunal system for equal pay cases are welcome but on their own will not bring about equality. It is only when senior staff, line managers and employees as a whole embrace the case for fair pay that change can come about. It is up to HR professionals to persuade their colleagues and to seize control of the HR practices that can drive change.