Apr 2nd 2019

Flexibility and the Gender Pay Gap

Within a week of the deadline for companies to disclose their pay gaps, nearly two thirds of companies have still not disclosed the average difference between what they pay male and female employees per hour. Based on the companies that have disclosed their pay so far 3 out of 4 have a pay gap and 42% of companies have reported a larger pay gap than last year.

There is still a long way to go to close the 21% UK gender pay gap (FYI versus a 16% EU average) and evidently encouraging companies to disclose pay is not enough. The Fawcett Society suggests a few ways the government and employers can work towards closing the gender pay gap from implementing penalties for employers who do not comply with gender pay gap reporting to supporting women into higher paid roles.

new report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission has highlighted flexible working as its primary recommendation to closing the gender pay gap. One of the biggest barriers to gender equality and pay parity is employers refusing to accept non traditional working practices. The traditional structures support a system where one parent stayed at home and one went to work. This is outdated and not only does it not reflect the state of the contemporary world, it works as a barrier to women with other responsibilities entering or progressing in the workplace.

According to Timewise, flexible roles are largely within those lower skilled roles but there is a direct correlation between the lack opportunities to work part time or flexibly and the decrease out of women in more senior roles. Research shows the female talent pipeline begins to shrink around mid management level from being roughly a 50/50 gender split down to around 3% of women at board level. One of the reasons for this is that women still take up the majority of primary carer roles in families so returning to a 9 to 5 proves difficult.

As a result there is an over-representation of women in lower paid, part time jobs. Lacking female representation in more senior roles has the knock on effect of a lack of female sponsors for more junior women coming up the ladder as well as lacking decision making with specifically female interests of needs from the workplace instilling a detrimental cycle.

Some companies, such as Diageo, have made a concerted effort to implement flexibility across roles at all levels of seniority as well as advertising their roles as flexible at the point of hire with the intent of closing the gender pay gap. As the deadline for submitting employee pay comes ever closer it will be interesting to note whether companies or even sectors with higher levels of flexible working have a smaller pay gap. If such a correlation rings true, the future will look bright for the gender pay gap as the working environment naturally develops into a more flexible way of working.

But we cannot rely on a natural progression into flexible working, nor it seems transparency, in closing the gender pay gap. It is clearly not effective nor taking effect at a fast-enough rate. There needs to be active measures put in place by Employers and Government alike in encouraging proactivity from companies flexible working conditions or complimented by alternative and measurable policies. The Fawcett Society suggest a range of measures that would drive to close the gender pay gap and even punitive action taken if measures aren’t hit. Either way, the gender pay gap needs to be urgently addressed as current measures are evidently not enough.