July 7, 2016

A group of like-minded universities have come together to help businesses understand how pay gaps occur and therefore how they can be dealt with. Here Professor Carol Woodhams of University of Exeter’s Business School talks through the Pay Equality Research Consortium’s work and what it’s all about.

There exists an outdated trend in the world of UK business where women and men are still being paid differently to one another.

This inequality has been left unchallenged for so long that a pay gap between the two (often caused by unintentional bias) has become the norm and is proving exasperatingly difficult to close in any sector, with female professors at the University of Essex only recently gaining equal pay after a lengthy battle.

The UK Government has stated its commitment to closing the gender pay gap in the next twenty years, and if all goes to plan (and on schedule) the gender pay gap will shrink to nil by 2035.

As part of this, the Government has begun the process of consultation on regulations that would make it mandatory for companies with 250 or more employees to publish any and all information relating to the form of the gender pay gap within their organisation, but more needs to be done now to better understand the issues behind the gulf.

The gender pay gap and its causes are big concerns, and that’s why a team led by The University of Exeter is working on a solution with an innovative new research project.

Carried out in a collaboration between the universities of Exeter, Bath, Cardiff and Bristol working together under the umbrella of the GW4 alliance of the four South West and Wales universities, the Pay Equality Research Consortium (PERC) aims to work with employers to help them understand the conditions that create pay gaps in their business. I’m leading the initiative.

A pay gap of the sort that exists between men and women can be the result of many different factors, including the approach of employers to grading schemes, reward and bonus structures, occupational segregation and promotion frameworks. Although the main dividing point in the pay gap is gender, the issue can also be exacerbated by other factors such as age and ethnicity. All of these elements come together to form an unequal workplace reality, one that also creates tensions in companies due to the differences between business practices and the expectations of staff.

In order to understand the pay gap more thoroughly, PERC will look widely at all pay gaps and work place policies to highlight those which cause a pay gap to exist. In order to do this, researchers are currently interviewing HR directors to establish and examine what data they hold and formulating questions that employers would want answering through data analysis.

It can be difficult to gather pay information from employers due to data protection laws, but with the information available, PERC will design and create an online pay gap tool which will give employers a confidential and bespoke report on what factors are likely to be causing pay inequality in their organisation.

Consultations are already under way to establish the design of the platform and the features that businesses want to see, and it is hoped that the tool will be up and running within two years. Armed with this pay gap tool and the knowledge it provides, it is hoped that employers and businesses will be able to more easily identify what they can do to ensure that inadvertent advantages and disadvantages in their polices are confronted and rectified.

PERC’s research will not only prove invaluable in ensuring equality in individual workplaces, but it will also allow employers and researchers to better understand the causes and remedies for pay gaps. It will then be possible to engage in knowledgeable dialogue with policy makers, allowing for real change to be achieved and the pay gap closed for good.

If you’d like more information on this initiative, please drop me a line via c.woodhams@exeter.ac.uk or call 01392 722137.