Last month the Government Equalities Office (GEO) published a report to establish whether gender pay gap (GPG) information disclosed so far on the Government GPG viewing service is presented in a meaningful way, or whether it could be more transparent.

The report wanted to find a way to present the GPG information "in a way that helps the public identify which companies are doing better than others, understand what the figures mean, and hold the right companies to account."

The study tested four ways of presenting the core GPG figures to see how this could affect public attitudes and comprehension compared to a control condition (which presented the figures in percentages based on the GPG viewing service).

Over 2,300 UK adults participated in an online trial prior to the reporting deadline of 4 April 2018. They were shown GPG figures of three hypothetical retail companies with a low GPG (3%), moderate GPG (18%) or high GPG (37%). Attitudes towards companies were measured in terms of an intention to purchase from the company, willingness to work for the company, and a rating of the company's overall wage fairness. The trial also measured comprehension of key details about the GPG.

Results published in the report indicated that:

when comparing average hourly wages, comprehension was best when the GPG was visually represented and described in terms of money (represented by coins) rather than percentages. So for example coins representing that for every £1 men earnt, women earnt 75p and that this was 25p less, was most readily understood by trial participants. This change has now been incorporated to the latest live version of the Government GPG viewing service.

  • people need support in identifying what different levels of GPG mean. Providing benchmarking information about how certain companies are performing on their GPG compared to others shifted people's attitudes in a way that reflected a better ability to distinguish between poor and high performing companies.
  • when figures were presented as money, usually as piles of coins, together with benchmarking information (comparing the company to others), people's attitudes were most accurate – perhaps because they could relate to them more easily.

As a direct result of this research, the current live version of the Government's GPG viewing service now shows each employer's gender pay gap as money in addition to the percentage.