In the forty years since the first Equality Act was passed, not enough energy has been dedicated to ensuring that men and women receive equal pay for equal work. While the glass ceiling may be showing the first signs of cracking, equal earnings remain the elephant in the room – regardless of whether this room is an office or a factory floor.
Since the start of October this year, employers are now compelled to conduct and publish equal pay audits if they are judged to have breached the equal pay provisions of the latest Equality Act. While harnessing the curative properties of ‘transparency’ is a good idea, I believe that forced publication of numbers will do little to interrogate or explain pay gaps, or address cultural issues within organisations.
The fact is that numbers alone mean nothing and cannot be compared. They might show who earns what, but this knowledge will do nothing to address underlying problems or weak processes which may still need to be tackled.
Instead, I would like to see better communication of how decisions are made and better equipping of managers to make those decisions and communicate them. This is vital to help employees understand why they are paid what they are. It’s also often inconsistencies on the part of line managers that leads to discrepancies in pay. It’s just as important to ensure decisions are based on pre-agreed criteria, rather than personal relationships, especially where performance-related pay is concerned.
If a set of pre-agreed criteria can be combined with the power of data analytics, these decisions can be monitored, evaluated and brought into line. The end result will be a greater chance that equal pay for an equal day will become the norm.
So, while I do welcome equal pay audits as another step on the path to transparency in business, they are not the silver bullet. The threat of forced publication of pay structures might shame some employers into action, but more can – and should – still be done.
This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK.