Ten changes that need to be made to close the equal pay gap

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In her last blog, Leigh Day solicitor and Vice-Chair of the law firm’s Women’s Committee, Lara Kennedy, reflected on the history of equal pay on the 50TH anniversary of the Equal Pay Act.

Here, she sets out what needs to happen to bring about real and lasting change.

1. Bring back statutory discrimination questionnaires

An employee who believes they have been discriminated against can ask their employer relevant questions about the matter. Previously, employers were obliged to respond to these questionnaires but in 2014 this was repealed. To enable women who think they have an equal pay claim to question their employer and obtain essential information, this obligation must be brought back.

2. Make Equal Pay Audits compulsory

Tribunals can order an employer found in breach of equal pay law to undertake an equal pay audit. This is a powerful tool that forces employers to carry out systematic pay reviews, but it’s a significantly underutilised procedure and as a result pay inequality is allowed to continue. Making these audits compulsory would help to achieve pay transparency.

3. End the stigma around conversations about pay

Colleagues need to feel able to speak to each other about pay. If it continues to be a taboo topic of conversation, pay inequality and discrimination will remain an issue. A lack of transparency in pay and promotion processes also acts as a barrier in identifying a comparator if somebody feels they are being discriminated against.

4. Promote female leadership

We need more women at the top in positions of power and influence. Women need to be seen and heard. Even our Prime Minister, when questioned by the Women and Equalities Committee Chair Caroline Nokes, was unaware that we need 50% female representation on boards and in roles of decision making to affect change.

5. Value women’s work

There needs to be a societal change in attitudes towards roles deemed as ‘women’s work’. This is particularly prevalent in care sectors where women are deemed as ‘unskilled’, providing employers with an excuse in undervaluing and underpaying women. Women make up the overwhelming majority of frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic which is helping the public understand that these roles are essential and should be paid accordingly.

6. Commit to flexible working

Helping employees achieve a positive work-life balance is essential in reducing the gender pay gap and pay inequality. Inflexible and outdated work models have driven women into part-time roles which has a detrimental impact on their pay and employment progression.

Coronavirus has forced many companies to reassess flexible working. It is no longer possible for these employers, who may have previously denied flexible working requests, to continue to do so. But, according to a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education, the pandemic has also exacerbated the pressures and caring responsibilities placed on women. It also found that mothers in England are more likely than fathers to have lost their jobs during the lockdown, which will certainly have an adverse effect on pay inequalities and the gender pay gap.

7. Widen Gender Pay Gap reporting

At present only companies with 250 employees or more have to publish and report on figures about their gender pay gap. This means that a lot of pay disparity is slipping under the radar. In order for us to have a clear picture of the inconsistency in pay between men and women across the UK, there must be a legal duty for companies with 100 or more employees to report on the difference between the average hourly earnings of a company’s male and female employees.

8. Force employers to interrogate their pay structures

Reporting regulations fail to tackle the root causes of the pay gap. Employers with an equal pay gap should be required to provide narratives that make available detailed analysis of salaries, roles and statistics. This would highlight both legitimate reasons why a gap may exist, and shortcomings that need to be addressed. Compulsory action plans should also be introduced, setting out steps employers will take to reduce the pay disparity. Without providing this transparency, employers are sending a clear and demoralising message to the female workforce: you are not worth the same as a man.

9. Introduce fines

Equal pay remedies are focused entirely on the person making a discrimination claim and not on the company the claim is made against. Instead, where pay inequality is proven, fines should be implemented to force employers to truly change from their discriminatory practices.

10. Give women a voice

Employers should encourage salary negotiations, instill a belief in their workforce that women’s work is of equal value and build solidarity between colleagues so that both men and women understand that the time has come to bring an end to pay discrimination. As activist Gloria Mills powerfully put it, we need to ‘ENGAGE, ENRAGE AND EMPOWER WOMEN’.

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