5 April 2018

Opinion: Next year’s gender pay gap reports will be the true test for UK employers


Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery is head of content and community at Ciphr. She was previously deputy editor at People Management magazine. You can find her on Twitter @c_newbery.


Corporate governance Diversity and inclusion Pay benefits and reward


While most people are picking over the 2018 statistics, it’ll be 2019’s numbers that actually prove if organisations have bothered to tackle their gender pay challenges, writes Cathryn Newbery

The gender pay gap reporting deadline of 4 April ended up being something of a damp squib. The government website predictably crashed on the morning of the deadline as hundreds of employers scrambled to submit their figures in time. More than 1,000 companies missed the deadline, but to date there’s been little agreement about what sanctions they face, if any.

So what does the reported data actually tell us? We know that, as of the snapshot date of 5 April 2017, at about three-quarters of the roughly 10,000 UK private companies and public sector organisations that submitted their data, men were, on average, paid more than women.  We know that the worst-performing companies include Ryanair, where women make up just 1.44% of its 554 UK-based pilots, and JP Morgan, where 78% of people in the highest-paid roles are men. This data is hardly a surprise, given the structural inequalities rife in such industries.

“Any efforts that employers make in the next 12 months to tackle gender pay inequality won’t impact the numbers until 2020 at the earliest”

We also know that the data collected is flawed and that the metrics are of limited use. For example, they don’t distinguish between the pay of full- and part-time workers, which, given that 42% of women in employment work part time, is a major contributing to gendered pay inequality. The reports also overlook other facets of diversity, such as education level, ethnicity, disability, and sexuality.

We also know that only a small subset of the population probably actually cares about the reports, and are in a privileged position to lobby their employers for higher pay. Someone working on a zero-hour contract, for example, may not be able to afford to risk their job (however poorly paid) in a quest for better remuneration or more hours.

The crucial test for employers – and for the success of this government initiative – will be the 2019 round of reporting. The snapshot date for private companies with 250 more employees is today, 5 April 2018, so any efforts that employers make in the next 12 months to tackle gender pay inequality – be that hiring and promoting more women, or offering more flexible hours or senior part-time roles – won’t impact the numbers until 2020 at the earliest.

Related: Gender pay gap reporting 2022: what’s required?

Given that so many employers waited until the final few days to submit their reports this year, is it really likely that they will have spent the past 12 months working hard on their D&I initiatives ready for the 5 April 2018 snapshot date so their 2019 reports offer positive news? I doubt it. Much more likely is they’ve been sitting on this data, fretting about how the media and their employees will react, and ignoring the bigger picture – how to make a tangible difference to gender pay gaps, improving the experience of work for their employees, and make a positive contribution to society.

Cathryn Newbery is Ciphr’s content editor. She was previously deputy editor at People Management magazine