Written for the GW4 Pay Equality Research Consortium
“The pay gap is not inevitable, there are things that can be done to tackle it” says EqualPayPortal’s Sheila Wild
The gender pay gap is an issue that has dogged women in the workplace for decades now. The glass ceiling may not be quite as thick as it once was, with the number of women in top jobs increasing slowly but steadily, but the fact remains that women are paid less for doing the same jobs as male counterparts.
There are a great deal of issues which can establish a pay gap, such as promotion frameworks, grading schemes, bonus and reward structures and segregation in the workplace to name a few, but it’s the ways in which a pay gap can be closed again that are increasingly of interest.
The Pay Equality Research Consortium (PERC) is currently establishing ways that employers can be helped to identify and shut down inequalities within their workplace, but other groups, such as Sheila Wild’s EqualPayPortal have been fighting for better information on inequality for a number of years now.
“I set up EqualPayPortal to help people find the information they need to tackle the gender pay gap, whether as employers or as individuals seeking equal pay,” explains Sheila. “Facts, figures and advice are currently scattered across at least fifteen difference government departments and agencies, and it can be really hard for people to find the information they need.”
EqualPayPortal’s raison d’etre then is summarising the information that’s available and providing links to key sites, acting as a conduit which takes visitors directly to the pages they need to read. Some of the most important information to be found through EqualPayPortal relates to the best ways to tackle the pay gap, a concept which has only recently come to prominence.
“The realisation that the pay gap is not inevitable, and that there are things that can be done to tackle it, is one of the biggest changes I’ve seen since founding EqualPayPortal,” says Sheila. “This in turn has led to it moving up the policy agenda, which is incredibly important if we are going to see real change soon.
“The main problem is that employers are worried about divulging their information in case it contradicts data protection laws, or leaves them open to equal pay claims. This means they need absolute confidentiality, and of course there is a tension between that and the desire of policy makers to bring pay gaps out into the open. I think that once we do start to bring pay gaps into public view, as the government now intends, that fear of exposure will start to fade away pretty quickly.”
The Government is currently pledging to reduce the gender pay gap to 0 by 2035, a target that experts like Sheila only believe can possibly be reached if the idea of occupational segregation – men doing ‘men’s jobs’ and women doing ‘women’s jobs’ – loses its hold on the workplace.
A collaborative effort between the universities of Exeter, Bristol, Cardiff and Bath, PERC’s research is leading to the development of a tool that will allow employers to better grasp their pay gaps, helping them to control the situation. It’s this element of control and self-improvement that PERC and EqualPayPortal believe will be vital to creating fairer workplaces.
“The development of tools to help employers identify pay gaps and what’s causing them is one of the most important leaps forward in helping to close the pay gap. Once the employers see the figures for themselves and how it affects their staff it becomes easier to introduce solutions.
“Any tool which helps employers to better understand their pay gaps, and helps to close those gaps, is a welcome development. Organisations tend to see their pay system as nobody’s business but their own so as a consequence they like to be in the driving seat. Giving the employers the tools to fix their own gap really is the best solution, so PERC’s employer-focused pay gap tool will be exceptionally useful in closing the pay gap once and for all.”
Another barrier to closing the pay gap is a narrow focus imposed by current thinking; “We also need to be looking not just at gender, but at dimensions such as age, ethnicity and disability,” Sheila argues. “Whilst gender trumps these other dimensions, it’s not going to be possible to eliminate the gender pay gap by focusing only on gender, and this is why the research carried out by PERC is important: it looks at pay gaps in all their complexity to find solutions that will work in the longterm.”