Is the Gender Pay Gap explained by failed pay systems?

By Neil Stewart, Editorial Director, The Equality & Diversity Hub

Something more fundamental is holding back women’s equality at work than the treatment of pay alone. What are the barriers to resolving the gender pay gap? What other changes are needed to reform the outcomes? 

Contrary to expectations that the introduction of gender pay gap reporting and transparency would start a slow progression towards greater equality, the latest government figures report a widening gender pay gap.

Equality campaigners have always been careful to point out pay systems alone are not the sole cause of discrimination in the work place – and these latest announcements in the second year of gender pay gap reporting confirm that caution.

Drilling into the figures may help reveal where the problems are rooted. One set of solutions will undoubtedly lie in HR Toolkits – exploring pay processes and corrections, recruitment, increments, promotion, bonus systems – the whole mechanism of reward inside a large organisation.

But not everyone is focusing on pay. The Fawcett Society and other equality campaigners have, for some time, been digging deeper into the common disruptions in the working life of women that slow the rate of progress in equality of opportunity as well as pay.

The #MeToo movement is exposing one ugly aspect of working life for women. The movements against bullying and harassment are increasingly calling out behaviour which disproportionately discriminates against women in their work. These hard issues involve disciplinary and often legal processes and we are still early in the cycle of discovery, justice and resolution.

The government this weekend announced a website for jobs offering flexible working solutions. Another initiative promoting shared parental leave and pay, encouraging eligible parents to combine work with family life, is stubbornly not taking off – social and economic barriers as well as deeply rooted cultural resistance looks more entrenched than anticipated.

Meanwhile public figures including Kay Burley at Sky News and Mariella Frostrup at the BBC are raising the profile of the impact of menopause on the working life of women.

Older retirement and new opportunities mean that the menopause is now a mid-working life issue for many women, occurring just as they are reaching the pinnacle of their career when they have most to give and would expect to attract the highest pay and promotion.

For women in work the disruptions that focus on maternity pick just one aspect of a whole life cycle of change from period pain, through childbirth to menopause. Maternity itself is a longer more difficult cycle than the statutory maternity leave phase. No one talks about miscarriage, pre natal changes, or birth trauma which affects up to 1/3 of women. We hear about the extreme risk of post natal depression but not the normal and very disruptive hormonal changes that follow birth.

Along with menopause these issues tend to be medicalised, treated as illnesses. Women who have hard experiences are treated as exceptional, to have had an unfortunate experience. But as the menopause campaigners are pointing out, these experiences are not exceptional , to some degree all women go through them, they need to be normalised and built into our thinking about women and work.



Women at Work: Breaking the Barriers

22 May 2019 | London

The Fawcett Society have led the way in putting together an examination of the barriers to the progress of women at work.

They will be joining us along with leading speakers from business and advisory groups working to change attitudes to the barriers to equality at Women at Work: Breaking the Barriers taking place in London on Wednesday 22nd May.

Speakers include:

  • June Sarpong MBE, TV presenter and author
  • Ann Francke, CEO, Chartered Management Institute (CMI)
  • Emma Codd, Managing Partner for Talent, Deloitte UK
  • Bina Mheta, Partner, KPMG
  • Chloe Chambraud, Gender Equality Director, Business in the Community
  • Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, The Fawcett Society

> View the full agenda

> Book your delegate place

We hope you will be able to join us at Women at Work: Breaking the Barriers this May.