Government rejects CBI stance on equal pay audits

The government and the CBI have clashed over the likely effectiveness of pay audits in closing the gender pay gap.

Speaking at a Work Foundation debate on the Equality Bill, Katja Hall, director of employment policy at the CBI, told Personnel Today that simply reporting a company’s average gender pay gap would prove ineffective.

Employers should instead be encouraged to voluntarily report a variety of equality measurements, including flexible working opportunities, the number of women at certain levels within an organisation and the number of female managers.

Hall said: “Our message to government is that [reporting gender pay audits] wouldn’t help to reduce the gender pay gap. Focusing on the gender pay gap is too narrow, it is focusing on the symptoms not the causes. What we need is a much more nuanced approach where we can have a range of indicators.

“It’s equally important to look at the number of women represented at different levels within an organisation, how many women you have on the board, how many women that are managers, how many women or men work flexibly. Or you may want to look at staff survey results. Who cares how many women you employ if you employ lots but they are all desperately unhappy?”

The Equality Bill, which is currently going through the House of Commons, will force employers to report their gender pay gaps by 2013, if progress has not already been made. But Hall warned that the reporting of equality measures would have to be voluntary to secure employers’ buy-in. “If they are forced they are likely to switch off and do the minimum,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of the government, solicitor-general Vera Baird insisted that gender pay gap reporting was essential as it would provide a figure by which all companies could be compared – forcing employers to look closely at the reasons behind any gap that existed.

“These pay checks should reveal to employers and employees what is actually going on,” she said. “It will open up the problem and will direct how it should be sorted.

“For Katja Hall to say [gender pay audits] won’t reduce the gender pay gap isn’t true.”

She added: “We have to persuade all companies to do it in a way that we can compare so we can see like-for-like, so we can see when an employer is not complying with its equal pay responsibilities.”

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