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Mind the gap: Could new pay reporting rules redress the gender balance in East Anglia?

PUBLISHED: 15:22 22 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:22 22 December 2017

Are East Anglia's businesses ready for the gender pay gap reporting deadline? Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Are East Anglia's businesses ready for the gender pay gap reporting deadline? Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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While 2017 was a year rocked by sexual harassment scandals, the tide was also beginning to turn against a less obvious type of sexual discrimination.

Official opening of grain handling and storage facility at Muntons in Stowmarket. Picture: GREGG BROWNOfficial opening of grain handling and storage facility at Muntons in Stowmarket. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The difference between men’s and women’s pay is a recognised barrier to gender equality in the workplace, but the pace of change has been slow, with the gap only shrinking by eight percentage points in the last 20 years from 17.9% to 9.4%.

Gender pay gap reporting – required by law for all companies with more than 250 employees from April 4, 2018 – will pull together data on the discrepancies between men’s and women’s pay across all sectors for the first time.

But Diane Deller, senior tax manager, human capital services at accountancy firm BDO’s Norwich office, believes the reporting could raise more questions than it answers.

The issue of gender pay gaps had been “mixed up” with equal pay, she says, while occupational segregation – which keeps men and women in typically higher and lower paid jobs respectively – is a root cause of inequality which the reporting may help to uncover.

“A lot of companies that have already reported say they have a gender pay gap but when you look at it, it is people doing different kinds of jobs, for example more women doing lower paid roles than men.

“We should be ultimately worried about gender balance instead of gender pay,” she said.

Research has shown the benefits of eradicating this segregation in the UK – a potential increase in GDP of 1.3-2%, or up to £14bn.

Ms Deller added: “Companies will have think about what they say about their results. The real damage would be to your brand.”

Carla Gowing, employment solicitor at Hatch Brenner, agreed that businesses should be cautious in their responses. “It is the same as any statistics: as you are looking at averages you could end up with distorted results. Obviously there is an opportunity for businesses to provide an explanation and it is really important for employers to take advantage of that, whether the distortion is good or bad.”

She said the disproportionate number of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in East Anglia, who will not have to report their pay gaps, could skew the regional results.

“It could be another set of statistics that leaves an impression which does not reflect the real situation in the region,” she said.

Companies’ actions

Malt firm Muntons is among larger firms across East Anglia which is required to report its gender pay gap.

The £90m turnover firm, which employs 320 people globally including 270 at its Stowmarket headquarters, says it is fully behind the initiative as it tries to encourage more women into careers in manufacturing.

“We fully understand and appreciate the reasons for gender pay gap reporting and are currently in the process of conducting a full analysis,” said head of human resources Eamonn Sparkes.

“Manufacturing does not seem to attract women applicants when jobs do become available, which is frustrating, as we recognise clearly the benefits that a diverse workforce can bring.”

Insurance giant Aviva, which plans to publish its figures well before the April deadline, is also supportive of the initiative.

A group spokesman said: “It’s the right thing to do for our people and it makes good business sense to have as many women as men in senior roles. We have plans to actively drive this change.”

Three more changes to look out for

Look out for these other legal changes in 2018:

• General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): Set to come into force across Europe on May 25, these regulations seek to increase the rights of individuals through changes to how data is gathered and stored. Employers should review their current practises for data processing to assess whether they are compliant.

• Employment status: 2017 saw numerous claims from people, from cab drivers to plumbers, questioning their employment status and rights, with the most prolific cases in the so-called gig economy. Status will continue to be a big issue in 2018, with companies including Uber still dragging cases through the courts.

• Increase in tribunal claims: Following the landmark decision by the Supreme Court to abolish “unlawful” tribunal fees in July, the number of people bringing claims against their employers is likely to rise now the financial deterrent has been removed.

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