Getting even: Six ways pay inequality could be tackled

Caitlin Logan

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has outlined a strategy to close pay gaps 

A REPORT published this week by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) offered six recommendations for the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments on tackling pay inequality.

The EHRC highlighted in a new strategy, called ‘Fair Opportunities for All’, that gaps persist in average hourly income based on gender, disability and ethnicity.

The report stated that the gender pay gap in the UK is at 18.1 per cent, while the ethnicity pay gap is 5.7 per cent, and the disability pay gap at 13.6 per cent. The recommendations point to the reasons behind this and suggest how it can be addressed.

We took a closer look.

1.) Tackle the root with education and apprenticeships

Choices of school subject, university courses, apprenticeships and ultimately career paths are still influenced by gender. The EHRC highlight research findings that gender stereotypes may limit the choices made by, or offered to, young people. In the long run, this can impact on pay, because male dominated or gender diverse roles tend to be more highly paid. The report recommends that careers advice and work experience challenge these stereotypes.

Apprenticeships can offer a positive alternative for young people who don’t go on to higher education, but the report finds that ethnic minorities and disabled people are under-represented in intermediate, advanced and higher level apprenticeships. This, in turn, can limit progression in to better paid careers. The report suggests seeking ways to improve participation in apprentices to redress the gaps.

Educational attainment is also linked to better pay. Those with disabilities in particular experience a lower attainment level, which the strategy suggests could be addressed by improving support in education for children and young people with additional needs.

2.)  Introduce flexible working across the board

Women, disabled people and ethnic minorities are all over-represented in part-time work. This is seen as a significant factor in the pay gap because higher level roles are less likely to be part-time.

At the same time, flexible working is less likely to be offered by employers for full time roles. This can leave those who are unable to commit to rigid working patterns due to caring responsibilities or personal health issues in a worse off position.

Offering all roles on a flexible basis and extending the right to request flexible working from the beginning of a role, as opposed to the current 26 weeks, could alleviate this issue and contribute to reducing the pay gap.

3.) Share childcare responsibilities between parents

Linked to the issue of flexible working is the fact that women are more likely to play the lead role in caring, both for children and for older family members.

Paternity leave can promote greater involvement of fathers in childcare responsibilities. The EHRC suggests learning from other countries which have seen success in this area, by increasing the rate of pay during paternity leave, offering the leave allocation on a “use it or lose it” basis, and offering this as additional to maternity leave.

Childcare costs can act as a disincentive for women to work full-time, continuing the cycle in which women take up part-time, lower paid roles.  Reducing these costs through extended free childcare provision could support a reduction in the pay gap.

4.) Reduce prejudice and bias

Conscious or unconscious discrimination is also thought to be a factor in the persistence of the pay gap. The EHRC refer to a number of research studies which indicate a bias against women in recruitment for male dominated positions and when considering promotions or pay rises.

‘Foreign’ sounding names were found to result in bias during the application process— informing the recommendation that more organisations take up a ‘name blind’ recruitment process.

Based on the under-representation of women, disabled people and ethnic minorities in senior positions, the strategy supports moving towards redressing the imbalance through targets and reporting.

5.) Investing in regional economies

The report found that the gender and ethnicity pay gap were significantly smaller in London, suggesting that opportunities to benefit from the economy are not equal across the UK. The EHRC recommend that investing in regional economies could alleviate this disparity.

6.) Report on progress

The Office of National Statistics publishes an annual report on the gender pay gap and there is a requirement on public bodies to report on the gender pay gap. The EHRC recommends extending this to include disability and ethnicity, and that all employers report on this information even where it is not required.

The Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee published its own report on the gender pay gap in June this year.

Picture courtesy of Howard Lake

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