Gender pay gaps and the Met Police chief’s decision to take a “pay cut”

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New Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has opted to take a lower salary than that of her predecessor Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. Is she setting a good example or exacerbating gender pay inequality, asks Ruth Thomas? 

A few feathers were ruffled last week when it was announced that Cressida Dick – who had just been appointed as the most powerful police officer in the country – had volunteered to take a salary £40,000 lower than her predecessor Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.

The reasons for the new commissioner choosing to take a 15% pay cut have not been revealed, other than it was a “personal choice”. Cressida Dick was offered £270,648 plus benefits, the same as her predecessor, but instead opted to receive a salary of £230,000.

Yet some commentators have questioned – especially given the arrival of gender pay gap reporting Regulations last week – whether she was unintentionally contributing to gender pay inequality or even undermining the cause?

It is interesting to note that another female trailblazer, Theresa May, took the same salary as David Cameron (£150,402) when she took office.

Setting an example

Ms Dick’s decision may have been to set an example and tackle some of the pay for tenure issues revealed by the Met when it published its gender pay gap data back in November 2016.

The figures revealed an overall gender pay difference of 11.6%, which is below the national average of 19.2% (and below the average in London which stands at 16.3%).

In the Met’s report, something that was cited as a key factor impacting the pay gap was that fewer female police officers had progressed to the top of the pay range “spine points” than male colleagues, because female police officers tend to have lower tenure than male colleagues.

Similarly, it noted that historical allowances were more likely to be paid to male rather than female officers because the Met employed more men than women up to 31st August 1994 when such allowances ceased for new employees.

These historical pay for tenure issues are likely to be a common challenge for many organisations as they seek to tackle their gender pay gaps in the coming months.

Executive pay scrutiny

Potentially, her decision might be a nod to concerns about executive pay gaps, the next area of focus for the Government on pay transparency.

According to analysis published by the Equality Trust in March 2017, the average FTSE chief executive earns 386 times more than a worker on the national living wage.

So maybe this was a desire to acknowledge that after nearly a decade of austerity, many public-sector workers have seen their incomes squeezed and those at the top end of the pay scale should take exemplary action.

Her intent may simply have been more altruistic when set against the background of required budgetary cuts in the Met, which has made £600 million in savings since 2010 and needs to make a further £400 million in savings in the next few years. Perhaps she felt that savings on her pay could be diverted to pressing needs elsewhere.

Whatever good intentions contributed to her decision, it is made all the more significant because of her appointment as the most powerful police officer in the country and the first woman in charge of the force in its 188-year history.

A glass ceiling moment indeed, but potentially eclipsed by the fact she volunteered to take a pay cut, reinforcing female stereotypes that women are less assertive about asking for a pay increase than men.

In fact, Sam Smethers, chief executive of women’s rights organisation The Fawcett Society, admitted she is sceptical about the news, saying: “I wonder how many incoming (male) Met Police commissioners have taken a pay cut in the past?”

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