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Recent comments on the gender pay gap made by the BBC’s China correspondent Carrie Gracie have brought this issue increasingly into the mainstream media and it’s something we’re likely to hear more of as the April deadline nears for organisations with more than 250 employees to publish data showing the extent of the pay gap between male and female employees. The decision by several male presenters to accept a reduction in earnings has further fuelled the debate.

Many large employers such as Ladbrokes and easyJet have already done this and the headline figures are eye opening. For example, at easyJet, women's hourly pay rates are 52% lower than men’s. Women earn 15% less per hour at Ladbrokes and 33% less at Virgin Money.

Does the focus on the “gender pay gap” create focus in the right area as we address the issues created by decades of imbalance in the opportunities afforded to women in the workplace?

It is important to note that the gender pay gap is the pay discrepancy between men and women regardless of the job they do or the position they hold. It is not the same as equal pay which is where when employers are required to ensure that men and women carrying out the same or similar roles are paid the same for the amount of work they do. This difference is something that appears to be lost in the reporting of the issue so far and it’s clear that by digging deeper into the issues, the headlines are misleading.

The figures can in fact be skewed by other factors. Within Easy Jet for example, pilots are paid just over £92,000 but 94% of pilots are men. Other organisations make similar statements about a disproportionate percentage of senior roles being occupied by men. That in itself is a separate, significant issue which needs tackling and one not likely to alone be solved by asking employers to publish pay figures.

The analysis done on the raw data by the Office of National Statistics reveals some interesting threads and exposes the real issues of inequality. They show that where an occupation is comprised equally of men and women, the gender pay gap is at its smallest. Age was also a factor with the gap at its smallest between younger workers but widening from age 40 onwards and reaching a peak between 50-59. In addition, length of service also has an effect. A male with over 20 years’ service earns on average 21% more than a male with just one years’ employment. For women that figure is 17.8% more.

Arguably, the greater focus should be on equality of opportunity and training to deal with the core issue of earnings inequality. The focus on boardroom and senior management equality, educational intervention to ensure higher paid occupations are not closed or restricted to one sex and the continuation of support provided to both men and women during pregnancy and afterwards cannot be lost.

Gareth Dando, Associate at Huddersfield based law firm Ramsdens Solicitors says: “We fear that the recent developments at the BBC with pay being reduced for men may release pressure from the issue and may act as a hurdle to female pay progression. Would a stronger message have been sent (at a high profile employer like the BBC) had a number of female presenters brought legal challenges based on the established principles and laws ensuring equal pay for equal work and equal pay for work of equal value?”

For further information on gender pay reporting, and your obligations as an employer under the new Regulations, please contact Gareth Dando on 01484 558 060 or email gareth.dando@ramsdens.co.uk.