Mind the gap… Can HR fix the gender pay gap?


This week’s HR Hour was all about the gender pay gap and how can HR effectively “fix” it?

It’s no secret that women are paid less than men, even when roles are consistent and irrespective of  pay or skill level, the gap remains obvious.  It’s important to highlight that Gender Pay Gap reporting is not just about equal pay as suggested; it presents a complex and challenging problem in which organisation figureheads shrug their shoulders and say “well how do we get around this then?”. In some cases has only emphasised the historical hurdles women have had to overcome in order to be seen equally.

Whilst Gender Pay Gap reporting is designed to highlight the difference in pay; is there anything actually being done to close the gap?

My favourite tweet this week came from Jayne Harrison (@jayneharrison3) summarised the subject perfectly for me “Gender pay gap is not the same as equal pay. It’s a bigger issue. It’s about what society deem to be ‘female’ and ‘male’ roles and the according related pay. As most have already mooted tonight – it’s a bigger issues than HR. But HR are in a position to influence change”.

In the next three weeks organisations are expected to publish their Gender Pay Gap report on their company website so it can be easily viewed by the public. This is all well and good, but even when they do present their reports, there are no obligations for organisations to fix the problem as there are no legal repercussions, this is disappointing and questions if this process has a point at all. As it stands, only approximately 1800 organisations have published their report, when it is expected that around 9000 are to publish their data, so are HR actually making the report a priority or are they leaving it to the last minute and hope it falls into place? If HR see this as only a tick box exercise or are not treating it as a priority, then surely this says everything that needs to be said about it?

Irrespective of the report being a priority, there are several ways in which HR can support closing the gap; transparency in pay structures and fair processes were the topic of conversation, I suggested that HR can respond by monitoring and questioning internal promotions and removing bias towards “selected” individuals. Too many times have I seen people cherry picked because they are liked rather than capable of doing the job. Recruitment is going to be a huge focus area to close the pay gap, as Nick Court (@scruffy_nick) said “Any company needs to be really clear on what is the cause of any Gender Pay Gap & understand: 1. Are there any barriers to joining my company 2. Are there any barriers to progressing in my company hierarchy 3. Are there any barriers to progressing in my company pay scale.”

Jai (@doilooklikea) said in response “The use of robust data and multiple perspectives across organisation can reduce bias in these cases. The issue also is we call it bias when really it is sexism.”

I also believe there is a lot of power in data, as it has the ability to transcend departments and can influence at all levels, especially when it comes to the bottom line. All too often I hear HR professionals saying “I don’t do data” so I would encourage them to get comfortable with being uncomfortable as it can make all the difference.

Sarah Murray tweeted “We need to look at this from a bit picture. HR can work to:

  • encourage more women into certain professions (tech and engineering already do this)
  • allow flexibility throughout the business
  • actually embrace diversity rather than just say we do
  • more leadership development”

There is also the future of work to consider, Gail Hatfield (@gailpostthat) said “Ok so gender pay gap. We need to get real here. In professions where women/men are underrepresented we need to influence now. Not the grown ups, the 7 years olds. That is how long some of these issues take to turn around.” Sarah Murray reflected this “I think we are starting to see some steps here. Less gender specific toys, more talk about what kids want to do, rather than the previous talk of girls should do x and boys y. But I agree as companies we should do lots more with schools to show the possibilities”

There is also the area of culture to consider; is your organisation encouraging an equal culture, are they supporting best practices or are they still known as the “old boys club”? Either way, this issue will only continue to gather attention and until mindsets change, then we may be looking at many years before an inch on the gap is covered.



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