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7 Things We Have Learned So Far from Gender Pay Gap Reports

As many of you will know, the deadline for this is fast approaching. In an event I attended, I learned that to date only 12% of the c.9,000 employers covered by the regulations have so far published their figures. That means there’s a great many either still working on their numbers or holding off making them public – which is understandable. New reporting requirements mean pulling together data for the first time (frequently from different sources).

And given for most organizations there will be a gap, perhaps more importantly there’s a decision to be made on how to present the data, and when.  So as this all hots up I thought it might be interesting to share what I’ve noticed so far…

1. There seems to be a lot of confusion about equal pay vs gender pay

There has been a lot of focus on equal pay recently. As I heard a speaker say recently “it’s shining a light on it”. Which personally I don’t think is a bad thing per se, except if it confuses people, which it seems to be doing right now. A company reporting a gender pay gap does not tell us they are paying women less for the same role. It tells us there’s an under-representation of women either at certain levels (i.e. senior management) or in certain specialisms (like STEM) – which is a really important issue in its own right.

2. There’s concern over when to report the figures

As alluded to above there’s definitely a sense of who’s going to jump first within industries and also a bit of a “safety in numbers” approach going on. But this carries a risk of backfiring.  A mass of companies rushing to publish right before the deadline is likely to increase press coverage and with it the risk of being named and shamed without the all-important context (see next point).

3. The importance of the narrative

The average gender pay gap is just over 18%, but whether your organization is above or below that, in practice I think the most important thing is not the numbers – you can’t change them (well not overnight anyway) – but the narrative. Interestingly this is optional, but it gives you the opportunity to explain your numbers along with the nuances of the regulations. For example, if you currently have a larger number of women working part-time who receive bonuses than men, this will skew your bonus gap data as bonuses are not prorated. More than that though it gives you a chance to explain what you’ve done to date and what you plan to do going forward to address the gap. And this is probably the most important thing – particularly to some of your key stakeholders; your employees and shareholders.

4. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution 

Every organization has unique goals and unique challenges so will need a unique approach to this. Yes, there are themes emerging but there are always going to be unique factors at play. And as with any new business challenge I’m also seeing it drive a lot of innovation too.  And here’s one of the silver linings – there’s a real opportunity to stand out as a leader, no matter how “bad” your initial numbers may seem.  

5. The value of authenticity 

Yes ok, it’s a bit of a buzzword right now but I think it’s totally justified here. A good example is the good press received by Aviva, who may have reported a gender pay gap quite a bit above the 18% average, but they did so along with an outline of a whole raft of initiatives to drive change and have a Leadership Team who are clearly both passionate and committed.

6. It’s easy to focus externally and forget the impact internally

Leaders in the field are managing this not just externally but internally as well. Making sure their Line Managers and Senior Leadership Teams are briefed and ready to answer questions, both on this and the wider inclusion strategy of the business. And also making sure they explain it to employees in a way that makes sense to them, using real-life examples (particularly to cover off any confusion with equal pay).

7. The importance of thinking ahead to next year

The bigger the business, the more often it changes. Anyone who’s worked in a large corporate will be all too familiar with it. You get used to it. But restructures whilst usually good for business can make tracking data year-on-year challenging. So, make sure you set up how you track the data and in particular how you explain any impacts these changes have is important.

There is also a growing view out there, which I share, that expectations are only likely to grow next year. Which means you can’t tick box this one – following through on your plans and delivering change is crucial, which I think is the most exciting thing in all of this. In a year’s time, we could be well on our way to being in a really different place.

About the author: Catherine Oliver is the founder of Parents@Sky and co-founder of Sky’s Women in Leadership initiative. She has recently founded the Bluebell Partnership, a consultancy to help guide businesses through the challenges of setting up their own working parent and women in leadership programmes.

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