HR professionals face adapting to a new skill set to cope with the Conservative government’s relentless transparency agenda.

First it was gender pay gap reporting. This month it is pay differentials between average company pay and the top executives. On the election trail Mrs May hinted that race and age could be added to the transparency reporting list, and we still have the party conference speeches to get through. The matrix of results will keep newspapers in headlines for years, but don’t bet against more.

Once board members get over the shock that this policy of “change by exposure” is coming from the Conservative party, the party of business, HR are going to have to acquire more advanced mathematical and PR skills to manage the fallout.

While the TUC and the unions may protest that transparency alone lacks the power of legal sanction, the same was said about gender pay gap reporting. The experience has turned out different; just ask the BBC and as Ann Francke, CEO, Chartered Management Institute has predicted “there will be many more BBC moments”.

Modern business competition and productivity thrives on the willing and enthusiastic support of company staff at every level – a sense of being in it together – an atmosphere HR teams work hard to create and sustain. While most employees know that pay differentials exist, that things are unequal, when they see the figures and the extent of the difference there will be a lot of work needed to help keep team spirit alive.

We have lived with the salary and packages of Chief Executives being public for many years and staff have learned to live with it. There is a little bit of every company that wants their figurehead to be the highest paid and biggest beast in the jungle. Martin Sorrell at WPP has plenty of people who think he is worth every penny of his salary and have enjoyed the ride to the top alongside him. But when staff find out the extent of differentials spread across the executive floor and quite how many middle managers are earning £100,000+ then the reaction sets in as the university of Bath recently discovered. The pay in large companies stretches much further than in most universities.

In these populist times when the lower paid often feel left behind and are registering their anger at the ballot box in the UK and the USA, you might think that the strongest reaction to wage disparity would be among the lowest paid employees, but what if its not? Many lower paid staff will never have the C-suite as their reference point.

Some of your older HR practitioners will remember the 80’s and the curse of strikes over wage differentials – marginal differences between groups of staff that made some of them feel good about themselves and you disrupted them at your peril.

What if middle management, professional and divisional management react in unexpected ways. They probably know the people at the top personally; have worked with them, even started off working their way up with them. What if the shock and disruption is not among the lower paid but among key professional and middle management?

That is a whole different challenge. Some will be able to draw on the experience of announcing annual bonuses and the resentments that can unlock. It’s hard to sympathise with the BBC having to deal with fury among people paid over £100,000 because they have just found out what John Humphries and Gary Lineker are paid, but that might just be the skill set that is needed.

The topics of transparency and gender pay gaps will feature prominently at two major equality and diversity events taking place this autumn.

In October the Fawcett Society will host their annual Gender Pay Gap National Conference, whilst November will see the return of the Global Equality and Diversity Conference and Awards.

Now might be a good time for HR teams to brush up on the latest policy trends, case studies and advice It’s going to be a long winter – let’s hope it’s a contented one.

Neil Stewart
Editorial Director
The Equality Hub