More than 10,000 large companies have been forced to publish figures on their gender pay gap and unsurprisingly more than three quarters of them have a higher median average salary for men than women.
But what does this mean? It’s easy to say what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that companies are paying men more for the same job as women. That would be illegal. What it means is that 78% of the 10,000 or so large companies have more male employees doing jobs with higher salaries than women. And on the flip side, 14% of those companies employ more women in higher paid jobs than men with the other 8% having the same median average salary.
So are the figures useful? Put simply: no. More men are in higher paid jobs for a number of reasons, primary of which is decades of historical male dominance of the workplace before legislative and cultural changes brought about workplace equality. Add in maternity leave taking women out of their chosen careers for a year at a time and often seeing a return to a different role and choices made about work/life balance when starting a family and you start to understand why there is an apparent gender pay gap.
But more fundamentally there is the the flawed methodology of calculating the gender pay gap. Let’s say a logistics company employs 10 office staff, 20 warehouse staff and 50 drivers. Assume the majority of the office staff are women (because most of the people who applied for the jobs were women, not because of a conscious or unconscious bias) and the majority of the warehouse staff and drivers are men (again, not because of bias but because most applicants were men). The warehouse job is manual labour in a relatively hazardous environment so they are paid more than the office staff. The drivers work longer hours and have HGV licences so they are paid more than the warehouse staff. For simplicity, let’s say the office staff are on £10 an hour, the warehouse staff on £15 and the drivers on £20 an hour. That means the office staff who are mainly women are collectively being paid £100 an hour, the warehouse staff £300 an hour and the drivers £1,000 an hour. That’s a median of £18.57 per hour for the predominantly male warehouse staff and drivers against a median of £10 per hour for the predominantly female office staff. On paper that’s a massive gender pay gap but in reality the male and female employees are being paid the same wage as each other for doing the same job and short of illegally sacking half the staff in each department and only recruiting men for the office and women for the warehouse and as drivers, that gender pay gap will rightly and justifiably remain.
There will never be a gender balance in the workplace because men don’t take time off to have babies. I’m not being misogynistic, just stating a fact. You can’t hold a man back in their career for every woman that takes a year out to have a baby because that is unlawful discrimination, not to mention bad for the company and a frankly ridiculous prospect (so expect Harriet Harperson to announce it as a policy for the next Labour manifesto). It is often difficult – if not impossible – for a woman returning to work following maternity leave to return to the same role after a prolonged absence and more so if they were in a senior position within the company. This isn’t me saying women have it coming to them because they have babies, it’s just that a lot changes in 12 months and a man returning to work after 12 months on the sick (or even paternity leave) would face exactly the same problem. But over time the ratio of women to men in senior (and higher paid) jobs will continue to get closer to 1:1 through natural attrition until it reaches the point where, though still slightly balanced in favour of men for the preceding reasons, it is equal.
Not having a gender balance doesn’t mean there is discrimination or inequality of the sexes in a company. Forcing large employers to publish fundamentally flawed aggregated data without context and requiring them to present it as if it were evidence of inequality is wrong. It is damaging to the reputation of the companies involved and it will almost certainly result in legislation to legalise discrimination to allow companies to meet arbitrary quotas so politicians can be seen to be doing something to address a problem that doesn’t exist.