Despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act of 1970 was brought in 46 years ago, figures from the Office for National Statistics in 2015 revealed that the gender pay gap still stands at 9.4% for full-time workers, and has changed little since the late 90’s.
Notwithstanding, the difference between men’s and women’s earnings is at the narrowest it has been since records began, although this is often credited for being because men’s wages have dropped, rather than a victory for women.
The unfortunate truth is that women’s pay has barely changed and they continue to occupy low-paid jobs in sectors such as health and social care, whilst men continue to dominate skilled and professional roles that pay higher rates. However, even women who occupy the same jobs as men are generally paid less than their male counterparts.
As of 2018, large companies (with over 250 employees) will be forced to publish data on their gender pay gaps, which many consider to be unnecessarily delayed. Concerns have also been raised that smaller firms, where over 60% of the UK’s employees work, are not included in these plans. Many women work in small and medium-sized businesses, and so there is concern that the true extent of gender inequality over pay in UK will not be reliably revealed.
However, regardless of size, it’s in a business’s best interests to treat its employees fairly. Staff productivity and loyalty will increase, and the company will project a positive image. (All of this is additional to the fact that it’s the right thing to do).
Sex discrimination can take many forms in the workplace:
where a member of one sex is treated less favourably than a member of the other sex on account of their gender
a where a rule is applied equally to everyone but that rule puts or would put one sex at a disadvantage
The Equal Pay Act relates to all the terms under which employees of both sexes work, not just to their hourly rate, and ensures that no term of the contract is less favourable to one sex than the other. This is why it’s important to be sure that your business is doing everything it can to create a fair and inclusive working environment. Here are some steps you can take to make sure your SME is on the right track.
1. Conduct a brief assessment of the pay received by your staff and address any differences
If you do find any differences, it may be completely possible that there are acceptable reasons for it, but it’s important to understand why it’s there and if it’s justified.
2. Be transparent
As long as your company is making every effort to bridge the gap, then there should be nothing to hide. In fact, it can be a point of pride that your business offers equal opportunity to everyone.
3. Make sure comprehensive records of pay are kept
Keeping and maintaining readily accessible data will make publishing details of your company’s comparative male/female pay easier in the event that it’s ever questioned.
4. Make sure pay and opportunities are based on merit
Your recruitment and promotion processes should be based on who’s best for the job instead of gender and unsubstantiated perceptions.
The education secretary, Nicky Morgan, concerns that these figures, or the pressure to show them, may discourage some organisations from hiring women in the first place. However, companies that do provide these figures and uphold a reputation for providing equal opportunities make themselves more appealing in the eyes of the public, this is why small businesses should be open and honest about their pay scales from the outset, and move towards eliminating inequality in all working environments.
If you’d like further advice on workplace discrimination, take a look at these government guidelines.