Bridging the gender pay gap is a no-brainer

4 Jun 18

Action on closing gender pay gaps should be based on sound evidence - not quick fixes, says Public Services People Managers Association’s president Karen Grave.

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You would expect me, as current president of the Public Services People Managers Association to be troubled – but perhaps not surprised – by CIPFA’s recent excellent analysis of local authority gender pay gaps, which showed local authorities in England pay men 7.7% more than women on average. 

However, the headlines are usually brief and can often be misleading.

Gender pay gap reporting has delivered a transparent analysis of the scale of the challenges we face in the lack of representation of women at senior management levels. 

This isn’t a nice to have issue – it is a strategic imperative and a wealth of data shows why.

For example, the World Economic Forum cited research in 2015 that said “companies with strong female leadership deliver a 36% higher return on equity”. So closing the gender representation gap should be a no-brainer.

As taxpayers, service users, employers and staff, we should also be focusing on closing opportunity gaps. 

Some public sector bodies find the headlines troubling and uncomfortable. If they are uncomfortable because they have failed to address inequality of opportunity, that is a very good thing. 

However, I’m no fan of rushing to judgment before data 
has been analysed fully and it is worth reflecting on a 
few issues:

⦁ We cannot assume every local authority can achieve a zero pay gap quickly – or ever
⦁ Data may not be complete
⦁ There will be structural differences; some jobs done mainly by women are less well paid than those occupied predominantly by men.

There will be much more analysis to come on the various datasets we are now seeing. 

As HR and organisational development professionals, we must turn our attention to what we do. This includes being honest that interventions to close gaps take time to come to fruition. This is a challenge given there is political pressure to act now.

We can be encouraged by the more frequent appointments of women to chief executive and other senior director posts.

We can take pride in the 27 councils with a pay gap of zero.

We can approve of the mayor of London’s Our Time: Supporting Future Leaders programme, which aims to tackle the shortage of women in senior positions and narrow gender pay gaps. 

When thinking about what more must be done and how reasonably quickly we should do it, we need to consider a few matters:

⦁ Everything done must be based on evidence to ensure proposals for closing gaps reflect the context of place and workforce demographics and have clear measures of success
⦁ We need to learn from other organisations (not just local government) that have a small or no gap, identify what they are doing and draw on that learning
⦁ We need to make sure that whatever we do is legal.

Tackling one injustice by creating another is clearly wrong. Positive action must not drift into positive discrimination. 

Gender pay gap reporting is in its early days. Used wisely, it will help us enormously. We must not waste efforts on quick fixes unless we are confident they will deliver results.

Ultimately, our work is about making sure organisations do the best for the communities they serve.

Data aside, decisions made in the interests of local people are better when communities are better represented at all levels. 

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