With the release of the film 'Suffragettes' equality has been brought into the limelight once more.
According to Meryl Streep it has taken decades for a film focussed on women's rights to be considered 'significant enough' and a delayed release was due to Hollywood's own male-driven industry.
Suffragettes were members of women's organisations in the late 19th and early 20th century which advocated the extension of the right to vote to women through various methods of protest. Led by political activist, Emmeline Pankhurst, tactics employed by members included hunger strikes and chaining themselves to railings to provoke an arrest. Eventually, equal voting rights between men and women over the age of 21 were introduced in 1928.
Meryl Streep has made the revelation that she is still, after becoming one of the most revered actresses in the world, and having received no less than 19 Oscar nominations, paid less than the majority of her male co-stars. Apparently, she is not alone. Jennifer Lawrence has also spoken out publically about being paid less than her male co-stars.
Away from the world of Hollywood, gender inequality in pay is an issue affecting nearly every industry. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that average pay for men is still greater than that for women. Although the gap narrowed to 19.1% for all employees and 9.4% for full-time employees in 2014 (the lowest since records began in 1997), the fact still remains that women effectively work, on average, a significant number of days per year for free when compared to their male counterparts. Other surveys and analysis from those surveys show that:
- Full-time female employees earn 22% less than men, which means that they work 100 minutes per day, or the equivalent of 57 working days every year, for free
- Across all professional roles, the gender pay gap stands at £8,524; the average male annual salary is £39,136 when compared to a females of £30,162
- The gender pay gap is greater at director level; the average male director earns £138,699 per annum compared to an average female director earning £123,756
- Male managers receive almost double in bonuses when compared to female managers
The government's proposals
Since the introduction of the Equality Act 2010, the government has had the ability to require private sector employers, where they have 250 or more employees, to publish information relating to the pay of their workforce for the purpose of showing whether there are differences in pay between male and female employees. To date, no mandatory provisions have been brought into force.
The government has however been consulting about its proposals to introduce regulations to implement gender pay gap reporting and to close the gender pay gap for good. Section 147 of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 is the latest in the government's attempts to level the playing-field for women at work and requires regulations to be put in place by no later 26 March 2016 to implement, as mandatory, the provisions of the Equality Act for employers with 250 or more employees. Draft regulations have not yet been published, despite the closing of the government's consultation on 6 September 2015.
What does this mean for employers?
Essentially, employers in the public, private and voluntary sectors with 250 or more employees will now face the prospect of publishing details of pay audits which reveal gender pay gaps within their organisations.
Where gender pay gaps are identified, employers could face adverse publicity and reputational damage. Such findings could seriously impact an employer's ability to recruit and retain staff. There is also a very real danger that, once inequalities have been identified, employees will find it easier to bring successful equal pay claims against their employers, which will have serious cost and reputational implications.
At the moment, there is no confirmed indication of what steps need to be taken, or what pay information will need to be included, when completing a pay audit for the purposes of gender pay gap reporting. It is believed that the Government Equalities Office will opt for median figures based on gross pay per hour, with extra payments such as overtime and bonuses being excluded. The ONS suggests that it would be more appropriate to use median gross pay per hour figures generally.
As a result, and to avoid any manipulation of figures, the regulations will need to set out comprehensively what is meant by 'pay'. Likewise, employers will need to ensure that their audits are conducted in a fair, consistent and open way which allows for them to be held accountable for any gender pay gaps discovered.
In the meantime, employers would be wise to carry out internal investigations in relation to pay and pay structures, and consider whether there are any existing disparities that can be rectified before the mandatory gender pay gap reporting comes in to effect next year.
Overall, these new measures should create transparency and align the gender pay gap - a step that Emmeline Pankhurst would no doubt consider long overdue.
This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.