I write further to the deadline for Gender Pay Gap Reporting expiring last week.  Much has been made in the media of that deadline being the day by which qualifying employers (i.e. those with 250 or more employees) have to submit the percentage difference in pay between their male and female staff.

The initial results?  Nearly 80% of those employers who have responded (some haven’t) have reported higher pay levels to men than women.

So, that means that those employers are discriminating against women, right?  Well, not necessarily.  But the figures are there in black and white – surely, every employer with a higher pay towards males is inherently sexist?  Not really.

The reality is that the figures are suggestive only and there are many legitimate reasons why pay may be skewed either way, whether towards males or females.  Let’s take a look and bust some myths about the Gender Pay Gap Reporting.

The first rule of Gender Pay Gap Reporting is to automatically distrust any company that claims to have a 50% – 50% split of male and female pay.  Frankly, the odds of that being the case are extremely slim.  Why?  Because men and women alike negotiate their pay and it would be extremely unorthodox for every person at every different job level to work exactly the same hours and receive exactly the same level of pay.

In reality, the Gender Pay Gap Reporting rules aren’t here to usher in every employer reaching 50% – 50%.  It is here to get employers to close the gap as far as they are able to do.  So, for example, let’s say Scooby Snacks Limited employs 300 staff of which 150 are men and 150 are women.  Let’s also say that this year there has been an influx of births amongst the male workforce and that 25 male employees have had successful Flexible Working Requests to halve their working hours to spend time with their newborn children.  Well, that would potentially skew the figures towards having ‘higher pay’ to women because, on average, they would work longer hours than men.

Now, obviously, that is a rather daft example as it only shows one variable – reducing hours due to childcare.  In reality, employers face many other variables, such as promotions, increasing wages to keep key employees, certain positions being made redundant, roles needing increased hours and/or overtime due to increased demand, shared parental leave levels, positions being vacant due to dismissal, resignation or recruitment, the list could go on.  But every one of these different factors could impact on their Gender Pay Reporting figure.

So, by now, you’re probably thinking ‘well, what’s the point of Gender Pay Gap Reporting?  Surely, the figures will never be ‘correct’?’  Well, the figures are useful in pushing employers to “close the gap”.  So, as above, the reporting procedure aims to get employers to do everything within their power to equalise pay across genders.  Whilst an employer can’t predict the factors listed above, it can try to equalise the effects of those factors and ensure it isn’t directly or indirectly adding to the gender pay gap (whether skewed towards male or female).

And yes, that’s right.  The Gender Pay Gap Reporting process aims to equalise pay between genders, not just ensure that women are paid the same.  An employer with a genuine 70% – 30% pay gap skewed towards women is potentially equally as culpable to Equal Pay claims as an employer with the same pay gap skewed towards men!

So, let’s attack the third myth.  Whilst most people acknowledge that employers won’t display 50% – 50% figures, it isn’t true that employers are powerless to prevent a large gender pay gap.  There is no one answer to this, but some methods have been put forward for employers to consider.  These include not asking job candidates for their current wage but rather than having a set ‘standard’ level for each job role or specifically mentioning that job roles will consider flexible working arrangements in job adverts.

Ironically, I’ve seen a few suggestions to ‘close the gap’ which I feel are, in themselves, potentially discriminatory.  The first is to aim to pay women more than men which, obviously, is discrimination against men on grounds of gender and contrary to Equal Pay Regulations (just the other way round gender-wise).  The second is to set firm targets for gender for certain job roles (i.e. 50% – 50%) (this is an example of so-called ‘positive discrimination’): however, for certain positions (i.e. airline pilots), there simply isn’t the recruitment pool available to do this and, in addition, any recruitment decision mainly based on a candidate’s gender gives the other candidate (of different gender) a decent discrimination claim against that employer.

So, what’s the answer?  Well, if we knew that, there would be no need for the Gender Pay Gap Reporting process!  Alongside most Employment Lawyers, I feel that the Gender Pay Gap Reporting process is inherently flawed and fails to adequately differentiate ‘innocent’ employers from those employers who actually are knowingly discriminating against female progression in the workplace.  However, the media attention around the Reporting procedure is likely to push some employers into closing the ‘pay gap’ for PR purposes and that, at the very least, is a good starting point.