• Opinion: Why tackling pay gaps isn’t just about gender

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  • 12 Sep 2017
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Sandra Kerr explains how addressing disparities is a win-win for employees and employers

Last month, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its latest strategy on gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps. It followed a TUC report that found that black employees with A-levels earn 10 per cent less than their white counterparts, and the pay gap for black workers is likely to increase with qualifications.

Business in the Community (BITC) has been working with employers to tackle gender pay gaps for many years, and we welcomed the introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting for large employers, which began in April. However, reports like the EHRC’s and TUC’s show that this issue cuts across all areas of workplace diversity.

Earlier this year, the McGregor-Smith review on race in the workplace found that getting race equality in the workplace right is worth £24bn per year to the UK economy. Meanwhile, BITC’s research revealed that, if the employment rate of people aged 50-64 matched that of those aged 35-49, it would add £88bn to UK GDP. Put simply, employers without a diverse workforce risk missing out – not only on the best talent, but also on a considerable financial boost to their organisations and the economy.

But what can employers do to tackle pay gaps? First, we fully support the EHRC’s call for employers to extend gender pay gap monitoring to ethnicity and disability and to report on this data annually. This will enable employers to identify where any pay gaps are within their business and help them put measures in place to combat them.

We also encourage increased transparency on pay bands and the range of pay within those bands, which enables employees to understand what the ranges should be and to see their career pathway. The McGregor-Smith report includes recommendations on transparency around reward and recognition and career progression, and we suggest that all employers follow these recommendations.

But assuming that closing the pay gap is a magic bullet for workplace equality would be too simplistic. This is also about structural issues: the under-representation of women and black, asian and minority ethnic employees in higher-earning sectors, the devaluing of ‘women’s work’ and the lack of flexible working for everyone. We need to change workplace cultures to make sure everyone benefits from inclusive workplaces. This could include providing unconscious bias training to those involved in recruitment and progression processes, or making sure fair appraisals are part of line manager guidance.

Data monitoring is also key. As well as reviewing data on gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps, employers should track data on sector representation. This data should be simple and easy to access at local, regional and national levels so that strategies to tackle disparities can be put into place. Data monitoring in recruitment and appraisal processes can also help identify who gets the ‘springboard’ work that may lead to a promotion or unconscious barriers in the hiring process, and can support organisations in removing any bias from these processes and closing persistent performance gaps.

Finally, flexible working must be available to all employees. We know it can be helpful for those caring for children or parents, but it also supports employees managing long-term physical or mental health conditions, those who wish to adjust their working patterns because of age, or those who may need flexibility for religious observance. It can also hugely beneficial for time management, work-life balance and agile working, which are vital for ensuring employees are productive and engaged.

The pay gap issue goes to the core of workplace diversity, and we need more employers to take steps to address it – not just for gender, but for age, disability and ethnicity too. By ensuring all employees can start with fair pay and go on to experience good-quality work and progression opportunities, we can create workplaces that benefit not just employees and the business as a whole, but also the clients, customers and communities they serve.

Sandra Kerr s race equality director at Business in the Community

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  • Could we please stop referring to pay gap when it is an earnings gap.

    There is evidence that shows that while women may earn less over their lifetimes, they aren't paid less for the same job. www.economist.com/.../daily-chart

    In fact the ONS states that women earn more than men up to age 39 and that women in part time work have an earnings parity with men.

    www.bbc.co.uk/.../magazine-37198653

    "Strip out the part-time workers, and the gap pretty much disappears for women aged 22 to 39."

    The choice seems clear, more hours in the workplace in more demanding jobs and you will earn more, more time off work and work in less demanding jobs and you earn less.