It has been 53 years since The Equal Pay Act was introduced. However, PwC research reveals that nearly half (46%) of companies reported their pay gaps remained unchanged or even grew in the last year. The sad truth is that the generation of women born in 1970 have been failed by the intrinsic bias present from the start of their career.
Whilst a huge factor contributing to gender parity, true gender equality in the workplace will not be achieved if the conversation is solely focused on pay. Indeed with female graduates in general earning one-fifth less than their male colleagues per year, it’s evident that greater action needs to be taken to resolve the gender inequalities that women often face from the very start of their careers. Improved transparency around pay will be a huge step forward in championing equality and forward-thinking companies must assess how they provide access to opportunity. In the legal sector, as an example of industry, we have historically seen les sof a pay gap compared to other sectors, because law firms, where most lawyers spend their early years, are transparent about their pay bands and compensation structures. Providing greater opportunity to women could be influenced by the offer of flexible workplace packages, how a company or sector defines and tracks diversity, as well as the introduction of clearer frameworks for career progression. Again, looking to the legal sector as an example and particularly senior roles within in-house legal departments, issues around female representation are present due to women not returning to the profession after having children, creating a scarcity of senior female talent able to fill these roles at the top. So what can HR teams do to improve women’s access to senior roles?
The Council of the European Union has recently passed a pay transparency directive, providing employees the right to receive a breakdown on company pay information. This will arguably encourage businesses to take action to rectify disparities and guarantee fair compensation, as employees can hold their employers accountable. Other industries should take note of how the legal sector has benefitted from its historical tendency to offer this transparency. UCAS figures show that over the past three years, female applicants to all law courses have risen by 13 percent and the Solicitors Regulatory Authority reports that just over half of all solicitors are women. While the introduction of greater transparency around pay is vital, it is equally crucial that businesses merely paying lip service to diversity are challenged, as such practices will only continue to worsen workplace gender inequalities. Therefore, while thirty-eight percent of respondents in the recent ACC Law Department Management Benchmarking Report explained that there is a formal strategy in place to better legal department diversity, companies must avoid simply hiring or promoting women as part of a diversity ‘push’.
This means companies must do more than simply track diversity metrics and instead HR teams must introduce clearer frameworks for promotion, referral and selection to the highest positions, as well as work hard to place greater value on the role, rather than whether the candidate is a man or a woman. It is only then that gender inequality in the workplace can be fully addressed. As long as society still views childcare as a female role, women’s careers will be impacted by the dual burden they carry. However, the dawn of hybrid working has arguably worked in favour of women, as companies can offer more flexible packages to accommodate both mothers and fathers. To achieve a truly level playing field, underlying issues of limited access to opportunity must also be carefully and thoughtfully considered.