The problem with closing the pay gap is that someone, somewhere is going to have to pay. It certainly can prove very expensive for employers, as the case of Birmingham City Council demonstrates (News, page 1). Who is going to foot the council's bill of £15m for raising women's pay?
The CBI objects to mandatory equal pay audits on the basis both that the voluntary approach is better and that the real cause of unequal pay between the genders is women's need for career breaks and flexibility due to childcare. The argument seems to be that if women will insist on having time off work when they have children then they will have to pay the price which is lower pay.
But while the CBI is right that the Government should address the issue of childcare, this does not mean bad employers should be allowed to get away with paying women less than men.
Leaving aside the issue of whether childcare should be the exclusive preserve of women, at least as far as pay is concerned, the issue is about HR practice.
From the HR point of view, it is simply not good practice to pay one group of workers less than another for work of equal or greater value. If this was happening between groups of staff within an organisation who were of the same gender, any decent HR manager would instantly set about putting it right. This is because good HR is about aligning reward with the value of the work being done.
So why is it that when there is gender pay inequality some employers have to be shown the big stick of employment law before they will act?
One thing is clear: employers cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand. With the EOC and the unions putting pressure on the Government to force through equal pay audits, the ultimate price for failing to bring women's pay level with men's will be more legislation.