With the majority of companies complying with their obligations to publish gender pay gap data by 4 April 2018, the focus now turns to why the pay gap persists.

The gender pay gap and equal pay should not be confused. The gender pay gap is a measure of the difference between men’s and women’s earnings across an organisation, whereas equal pay is being paid the same amount for effectively the same job. There has been legislation in place for over 30 years to address equal pay issues, but the issue of why more women work in roles that are less well paid (which is what the gender pay gap data demonstrates) raises both legal and social issues.

What do the figures show?

Over 10, 000 companies reported on their gender pay gap, with the figures showing that most women work in organisations where men are paid, on average, more than women. Given that women make up about 47% of the workforce and girls generally perform well at school, the issue of why women in work are concentrated in sectors and roles where the scope for financial reward is not as great needs to be properly addressed.

Why does the gap persist?

There are many reasons for the gender pay gap in Britain. Generally, more women than men take primary responsibility for caring roles within a family. The consequences of this can be far reaching and long lasting. More women find themselves in part time roles as a result, where options may be more limited as well as having more “gaps” in experience as they take time out to care for a young family or elderly relatives, often leaving them with less current, marketable, skills when they want to return to work.

In addition to this, many women face an unconscious stereotyping in the workplace. Some will assume a woman doesn’t want to, or is not able to, accommodate a more demanding role whilst caring for a young family. These assumptions should always be challenged and managers need to ensure they do not pre-judge the outcomes of such conversations.

Parity for men

Currently the law does not offer men parity in relation to rights and opportunities for paid leave when they have young children. For many women this is the point in time at which their future earning opportunities are impacted. This is not the fault of male colleagues, many of whom may wish to take more caring responsibilities within the family, but find themselves unable to because they do not have the same independent legal right to leave and pay as women.

Until there is a policy change at Government level which results in equality of caring opportunity and responsibility, it will be difficult to close the gender pay gap. Equality needs to be just that: men being afforded independent rights to time off with pay to care for young children and women being afforded the opportunity to achieve senior positions as a matter of course, without the shackles of stereotyping and assumptions.