Women's Pay And Employment Equality In The Workplace
In April 2001 The U.K. Government Commissioned An Independent Review Of Women's Pay And Employment
The conclusions show that there have been great changes since the Equal Pay Act 1970 was introduced, but that there is still significant disparity between status and pay for men and women.
Women's earnings are estimated to be on average 18% less than men and this is despite the fact that women are overtaking men in their levels of education and qualifications. The government believes that this has a significant impact on the economy and without action, the education and skills of women will be a wasted resource.
Because of decreasing fertility rates and increasing life expectancy employers will have to look to under utilised groups within the labour market. This means finding new ways of recruiting, retaining and developing women. Employers are therefore encouraged to retain information on recruitment, career development paths, retention rates and reasons for leaving as well as information on pay as only by referring to this data will employers be able to see whether their workplace really is 'female friendly'.
Very few employers believe that they directly discriminate against women (or that they discriminate at all) however by gathering this information they will have an objective picture of their workplace and whether they are, in reality, implementing policies and practices which negatively impact on women in indirect ways.
The key areas employers should be looking at are:
- The recruitment process - is it fair and objective. Are false assumptions made?
- Objective basis for promotion - are people selected on the basis that they work long hours? Is this a reasonable basis for promotion? This will negatively impact on women who usually have primary responsibility for childcare.
- Is there adequate training for women returning to work after maternity leave?
- What's the "culture" at work? Does it involve lots of out of hours drinking/days on the golf course/late night client entertaining?
- What about hidden pressures to work long hours/unsocial hours?
Another area the Kingsmill Report focused on was transparency in the workplace. Are salaries kept secret or are they a matter of public record?
Diane Kingsmilll believes employees should be allowed to request the employer to confirm whether they are receiving remuneration equal to that of a named colleague. However this throws up another problem and that is the issue of privacy and the Data Protection Act. It may be that under current legislation employees may only be able to ask about overall pay of colleagues and not of named individuals. Furthermore, employers like to feel that they can award different pay to different individuals based on their own performance in the job and not on their job title or job description. The difficulty with this is deciding what is meant by 'performance' and is that measure of performance indirectly discriminating against women?
So what are the reasons for the gender pay gap?
The first thing is that women tend to do lower paid jobs than men. Therefore employers need to think about what the reason is for the lower pay? In a recent case a £12 million settlement was agreed with a group of speech therapists who argued that their work was of equal value to physiotherapists. It is easy to see when one looks at the type of jobs which are primarily done by women (nursing/teaching/domestic work, etc) that the levels of remuneration for these jobs tends to be lower than for what could be argued are equivalent jobs in terms of skills and responsibility but which are primarily carried out by men. Therefore when employers are grading different types of jobs within their workplace, they should consider whether the jobs they are classifying at lower levels are those jobs which are primarily done by women, and if so, what the reason for the level of pay decided upon is.
Another issue is the unequal impact of family responsibilities. The introduction of new 'family friendly' legislation by the government (such as the right to request flexible working and the right not to be discriminated against if you are a part-time worker) is a step in the right direction by the government, however it is unlikely to address the pay gap unless significant numbers of men seek to work flexibly. In fact, if men do not take up their rights under the legislation, arguably the new rights could place women in a worse rather than a better position financially as employers will not be forced to re-address the way their businesses operate and will therefore be tempted to penalise those individuals who request flexibility in terms of salary.
One of the most interesting findings of the Kingsmill Report, however, is the fact that the Government's Equal Pay Taskforce believes that direct discrimination against women causes between 25% and 50% of the total pay discrepancy. This means that large numbers of employers directly (and deliberately) pay women less than their male colleagues and are getting away with it despite the legislation. Although Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970 there has been a recent surge in the number of claims brought under the Act and therefore employers who are still operating unequal pay structures (whether deliberately or otherwise) should consider the impact on their businesses if their female employees decide to issue claims. It should be remembered that claims for sex discrimination have uncapped compensation limits and the cost of inequality could far outweigh the benefit to employers in the long run.
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