Equal pay: keep banging the drum

The resistance of the private sector to equal pay audits was laid bare last week in a report by Personnel Today’s sister publication Industrial Relations Services (IRS).

More than 60 of the 103 firms polled by IRS believed equal pay audits should not be mandatory for private sector employers. One in four insisted salary structures that rewarded workers fairly regardless of their gender were attainable without formal audits.

But what are the reasons behind this refusal to look into the equality of pay scales?

A large part of this resistance seems to stem from their fear of what they will uncover, according to Stephen Bevan, managing director of the Work Foundation.

“When an employer uncovers how pay is distributed in all its forms, the result is often a culmination of years of tinkering with the system and years of compromised solutions and it’s basically a bit of a mess,” he said. “Like an embarrassing uncle, you’d rather not delve too deeply for fear of what you’ll find.”

The research shows such fears may be justified – of those survey respondents that have carried out audits, two in three found that men were paid more than women for work of equal value.

But Bevan said that not all employers were against audits for the same reason. “Some have a naïve belief that they won’t find anything. They feel that they pay people equally and it’s not an issue for them,” he said.

However, many private sector HR professionals point to the cost and time involved in pay audits and insist there is no guarantee they will close the gender pay gap.

Sarah Churchman, internal director of diversity and inclusion at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: “Equal pay, and mandatory pay audits, will not deliver equality at work.

“Pay data does not tell you if someone is at the wrong management level in a company, or that senior level positions are predominantly male, or provide equality in recognition of skills, progression rates and opportunities.

“If anything, mandatory pay audits could act to create complacency in the progression of women and recognition of their skills.

“What if all the senior roles are male? The glass ceiling will remain invisible with no incentive to remove it,” she adds.

Sarah Williams-Gardener, director of Business in the Community initiative Opportunity Now, said that employers may well be doing more than it appears to tackle gender inequality.

“Some of the best attempts at closing the pay gap are indirectly related to the issue and may not even be aimed specifically at women,” she said.

“For example, we promote coaching and mentoring for both genders, but we know that women are more likely to take them up and that they can be effective in positively encouraging women to put themselves forward for promotion.”

Gemma Taylor, legal adviser at manufacturing body EEF, said flexible working initiatives and equal opportunities training for managers were among other indirect measures that growing numbers of employers were taking.

Katja Hall, director of employment policy at the CBI, said it should not all be down to employers.

“If we really are to close the gender pay gap, we need to look at schools and careers advice, and the career choices that boys and girls make.”

Despite repeated calls for pay audits to be made mandatory as part of the Equality Bill, which is expected to become law in 2010, the government has so far resisted, stating that there is not sufficient evidence about their effectiveness.

Hulya Hooker, research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, is disappointed in the lack of action.

She said: “Pay audits are the only way. Nothing else is as effective. It’s nonsense that they have to be a real burden and very costly.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development agrees, but believes employers need see the business reasons for eradicating the gender pay gap.

Diversity adviser Dianah Worman said: “Clearly we need change, but I really do think the only answer is to keep banging the drum about why this is important as an issue.”

The Equality Bill in brief

  • Tribunals will be given power to recommend organisations change their equality policies
  • Employers will be able to choose a job candidate from an under-represented group over one from an over-represented group if they are equally qualified
  • n Public sector bodies will have a new ‘equality duty’ to actively promote diversity on the grounds of race, disability, gender, gender reassignment, age, sexual orientation and religion or belief
  • n Public sector employers will have to publish statistics on gender pay differences, as well as the numbers of ethnic minority and disabled people employed

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