Ready to report your gender pay gap?

Written by: David Hession | Published:
Images: iStock

Schools will soon have to report on their gender pay gaps, and those with high differences could face being named and shamed. Expert David Hession explains

The government is on a path to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting for organisations with 250 or more employees. Although the regulations are still in draft form, it appears certain that the requirement to publish any difference in pay between men and women will have an impact on the vast majority of educational establishments.

The new regulations will apply to rates of pay as they exist on April 30, 2017, and the first set of data must be available for inspection by April 2018 at the latest. At that point, organisations with significant gender pay gaps could attract negative publicity.

Some schools already actively promote an equality agenda through their policies and procedures, and appropriate staff training. Despite the fact that employers won’t be made to explain why a pay gap may exist in their organisation or what action they plan to take to reduce the gap, many schools will still be anxious about the thought of having to publish this data.

Significant pay gaps could attract unwanted attention. The result could be a blow to the school’s reputation – a key factor in attracting and keeping the best teaching talent.

Although the education sector does boast a smaller than average pay gap, the average salary for a female teacher is still £2,900 lower than that of a male teacher. The greatest contrast, however, is in leadership positions where male senior leaders earn, on average, eight per cent more than their female colleagues in similar roles.

In certain cases, there may well be genuine reasons as to why a gender pay gap is significant. For instance, a number of schools may employ a high proportion of female employees who work part-time. They may also employ a significant number of employees who are on maternity pay arrangements which could distort the figures.

The key is transparency; employers must be able to account for how staff are remunerated. Where employers do have significant gender pay gaps, they should either be able to explain this or put forward some form of action plan to assist in reducing the gap.

Our own recent survey revealed that 48 per cent of people would be prepared to demand a pay rise if they discovered they were paid less than a colleague of the opposite sex. A third of employees indicated that they would go straight to launching an equal pay claim. This tells us that institutions also have a financial incentive to get their house in order.

Schools that don’t already have a diversity policy in place should implement one urgently. It would also be prudent for employers to carry out some form of equal pay audit prior to any mandatory pay reporting coming into effect. This involves identifying the percentage of male and female employees that exit within a given pay scale.

Assuming that roles shouldn’t attract the same salary simply because they involve different tasks is a mistake. For example, an employment tribunal may consider the responsibilities and duties of a science teacher fairly similar to those of an art teacher.

Undertaking job evaluations is another sensible step. Essentially it means analysing and determining what a role is worth – at which point it becomes evident if any workers are paid differently for equal work. By building a job profile and matching that to a pay scale, it is easy to see who in the organisation falls below or above it, and where there are obvious gender pay gaps. The pay should match the job, not the individual employee and there are plenty of useful toolkits available for undertaking equal pay audits.

Another step is to foster flexible working arrangements for employees with childcare commitments. Undoubtedly, female employees often have to balance these commitments more so than men, and where possible these requests should be accommodated. This could apply to female employees currently working part-time who may wish to increase their hours due to reduced childcare commitments.

Not all differences in pay will be considered unlawful but action will be needed where the reason for the pay differential is, in any way, gender-related. If, during a pay review, differences in salaries appear, changes will have to be made. It is irrelevant whether the discrepancy was deliberate or simply down to poor recruitment and promotion practices.

For some schools, achieving equal pay may have to be a gradual process. Preparing an equal pay action plan which sets out clear timescales and steps to be taken is wise. It is important to be realistic in setting goals – unmet deadlines are likely to prompt complaints and potentially equal pay claims from employees.

There are numerous ways and tools for tackling the gender pay gap. Of course, the most obvious is to increase pay for underpaid employees who do the same job as a colleague of the opposite sex but are paid less.

Introducing a clear and transparent pay structure with measurable targets helps employees understand what to expect as their career progresses.

Inventive remuneration packages can add real value to an otherwise pre-determined pay scheme.

Additional perks could include a variety of more untraditional but family-friendly opportunities, such as childcare support. Offering a mix of employee benefits that appeal to both sexes and a variety of family and individual circumstances is a great way to attract the best talent. Plus it helps to dispose of any gender-related bias.

For a short while longer, the ball is in the court of employers to take action before they are forced to publish the first set of gender pay data.

The government has already indicated that it will adopt a “name and shame” approach in respect of those who fail to comply. Those who take action now to close the gap and to promote equality will be less at risk of public shaming.

Furthermore, if approached and communicated properly, the results could lead to increased staff morale and prove a real selling point in attracting the best teaching talent.

A final word of caution though: although measures will need to be taken if a gender pay gap is identified, employers are wise to avoid taking overtly drastic actions.

For example, increasing rates of pay or appointing women candidates into certain positions on the basis of gender could lead to successful sex discrimination claims being brought by male employees.

Succeeding under these new regulations is about striking a sensible balance between promoting equality without discriminating against particular groups of employees.

For employers, this can often prove an extremely difficult exercise and not one that should be carried out last-minute.

  • David Hession is an employment law solicitor at Simpson Millar.


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