Fair Opportunities for all: A strategy to reduce pay gaps in Britain

by Dr Lesley Sawers, Scotland Commissioner

Published: 15 Aug 2017

Today the Equality and Human Rights Commission has released a comprehensive strategy for tackling gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps, Fair Opportunities for all: a strategy to reduce pay gaps in Britain.

In Scotland in 2017 women are still paid on average 16% less than men. In the 42 years, since the women of Dagenham made their stand to achieve equal pay, which resulted in the 1970 Equal Pay Act, the gender pay gap has reduced by only 12.7%. That’s why the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is calling for radical change. Legislation alone will not drive the change we need. We believe a major overhaul of our working culture is needed to stop us having the same conversation for the next 40 plus years. We need new ideas, a renewed focus and national government and business commitment to reduce pay gaps.

Today’s research also indicates that ethnic minorities are paid 5.7% less than white people and disabled people are paid 13.6% less than non-disabled people. Within this, however, are some startling figures and surprising differences. Half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani men earn less than the living wage compared to less than one fifth of white men. And men who experience depression have a 30% pay gap compared to their non-disabled peers. Men with epilepsy have a pay gap of 40%.

Over the last four decades, the UK has made progress in reducing inequality in our workplaces and we acknowledge the efforts of governments, public agencies, unions, the third sector and businesses in achieving this. The UK Government has recently introduced legislation to increase pay transparency in companies that employ 250 or more people. But will this approach be any more successful than what we have seen before?

Our strategy is supported by the most detailed and comprehensive analysis to date of pay gap data and the drivers behind them. It highlights the complex causes of pay gaps, often missed out of debates that focus only on the headline figures.

It makes six recommendations for action to be taken by government, business and society that we believe will improve equality in earnings for women, ethnic minorities and disabled people.

Amongst our recommendations to government and employers is the requirement that all jobs should be advertised as available for flexible working, and greater effort placed on ending bias in recruitment, promotion and reward in a shake-up of culture and working practices to reduce pay-gaps. We also recommend giving fathers additional incentives to improve take-up of paternity leave which will help reduce the 'motherhood penalty' and the extension of pay gap reporting to ethnicity and disability.

Subject choices and stereotypes in education can send children on set paths which often reflect the limited expectations of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people. These stereotypes are then reinforced in recruitment, pay and progressions practices leading to a 'that's just the way it is' attitude. It isn’t – all it reflects is how we value people and people’s work. For this to change, we need to reboot our culture and make flexible working the norm; looking beyond women as the primary carers and having tough conversations about the bias that is rife in our society.

The Scottish Parliament’s recent inquiry into the gender pay gap in Scotland, 'No small change', echoes many of the findings of our own work and we share the Committee’s concerns about the low value placed on care staff. We fully endorse the Committee’s recommendations that public bodies use procurement to require bidders to submit their pay gap as part of the bidding process in the same way the Scottish Government has used it to require companies to pay the living wage.

We have been talking about equal pay for decades, but the pace of change is glacial. Pay and employment practices need to change and catch up with current Scottish life – women, ethnic minorities and disabled people shouldn’t have to accept second class pay and our economy needs to be one of all the talents if we are to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

The inequity of pay gaps and reducing its harmful impact on individuals, families, and communities sits right at the heart of our society and the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission - it is a symbol of what needs to be done to achieve equality for all. Promoting a few women to more senior corporate ranks or Board positions to meet new legislative requirements won’t be enough or acceptable.