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It’s time to ‘break the bias’ and close the gender pay gap at work

Caroline Waters, Deputy Chair

Caroline Waters, Deputy Chair | Equality and Human Rights Commission

4 min read Partner content

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, this International Women’s Day is a unique opportunity for employers to take action on unequal pay.

It’s International Women’s Day, and the theme for 2022 is #BreaktheBias. This year the organisers have challenged us all to:

‘Imagine a gender-equal world.

A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.’

At the Equality and Human Rights Commission, we enforce the gender pay gap regulations. The gender pay gap is the difference in average pay between the men and women in a workforce. Employers reporting their gender pay gaps play a central role in ‘breaking the bias’ in workplaces across the UK.

The gender pay gap has been declining slowly over the past decade. In April 2021, the gender pay gap for full-time employees stood at 7.9%, which is down from 9.0% in April 2019. While this is an encouraging trend, it will take many years and considerable efforts to close the gap completely.

Women may face different types of pay gaps and many factors can contribute to them. According to the Office for National Statistics, the pay gap for women under 40 is close to zero. This suggests that older women and women with children are penalised disproportionately in their careers, which puts their future financial stability at risk.

Disabled women and women from certain ethnic minorities are also more likely to have a higher pay gap compared to their White, non-disabled male counterparts. There also continues to be a disability employment gap, where disabled women are less likely to be in work compared with non-disabled women and men.

Benefits of reporting gender pay gaps

Increasingly, employers are understanding the importance of demonstrating what they’re going to do about pay gaps. It shows accountability and helps them to identify and remove barriers to women’s progression at work.

Crucially, gender pay gap reporting shifts the accountability from employees, particularly women, onto employers. It empowers employees, if they see a large gender pay gap or a non-moving pay gap, to challenge why that is and ask what their employer is going to do about it.

Boosting women’s participation generally in the workplace is the right thing to do. It also makes good business sense. It drives profits, productivity and economic growth. Companies with inclusive cultures experience lower turnover rates due to increased morale, opportunity and equality.

Being seen to take the gender pay gap seriously also boosts employee engagement. Our research has found nearly two-thirds of women would take an organisation's gender pay gap into consideration when applying for jobs.

We’re seeing lots of organisations, such as the online bank Monzo and energy company Centrica, take proactive steps to address their gender pay gap. These actions help make their workplaces more attractive and inclusive for everyone: men, women, carers, parents, disabled workers and people who might be seeking a better work / life balance.

What should employers be doing?

Employers across Britain in the private or voluntary sectors with 250 or more employees, must publish their gender pay gap data every year. This also applies to specified public-sector employers in England (and a limited number of non-devolved bodies). Scotland and Wales have their own regulations for the public sector.

The deadlines for this year are fast approaching. By law, all relevant employers must report their gender pay gap data within 12 months of the relevant snapshot date (by 30 March for specified public sector employers and 4 April for private and voluntary sector employers).

It’s vital that employers understand and follow up on their obligations. We want to see all employers resolve their pay gaps. The good news is that there are concrete actions that can be made right now to do so.

We recently joined forces with the Chartered Management Institute to create a practical toolkit to help organisations close their gender pay gap. It provides practical resources and motivational case studies that show the business benefits of prioritising pay transparency.

It’s time for action

The right to work and fair conditions at work are fundamental human rights. There should be equal access to the labour market for all people across Britain.

Unequal pay is not the only problem women face in the workplace. For example, the #MeToo movement and our ‘Turning the Tables’ report on workplace sexual harassment demonstrated that workplace harassment has been widespread.

The pandemic has exposed and, in some cases, worsened existing disadvantage and discrimination in the labour market for women. It threatens to reverse progress that was already being made. As we emerge from the pandemic, it has never been more important for organisations to take action for gender equality at work.

Inequalities at work may not be eradicated entirely by reducing the gender pay gap, but it’s a practical and significant place for employers to start.

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