The gender agenda

David Hession advises schools to address questions relating to equal pay before the government introduces mandatory reporting

The government is set to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting for organisations with 250 or more employees. Although the regulations are still in draft form, it appears certain that the requirement to publish any difference in pay between men and women will impact on the vast majority of educational establishments. 

The new regulations will apply to rates of pay in the 12 months preceding 30 April 2017 and the first set of data must be available for inspection by April 2018. At that point, organisations with high gender pay gaps could attract high levels of negative publicity. 

Some academies already actively promote an equality agenda – evidenced through their policies and procedures and appropriate staff training. But many will be anxious about the thought of having to publish their gender pay details. In certain cases, there may well be genuine reasons as to why a gender pay gap is significant. For instance, a number of academies may employ a high proportion of female employees who work part-time. They may also employ a significant number of employees who are on maternity pay arrangements which could distort the figures. 

Schools that don’t already have a diversity policy should implement one as a matter of urgency. The next step will be to carry out a full equal pay audit. This involves identifying where in the organisation men and women are doing the same or broadly similar work and then comparing their salaries. Not all differences in pay will be considered unlawful but action will be needed where the reason for the pay differential is connected to gender in any way.

Instilling culture of pay transparency across a teaching organisation can be an exciting process

Undertaking job evaluations is another sensible step. Essentially this means analysing and determining what a role is worth – at which point it is easy to see if anyone is paid more than their colleagues for equal work. By building a job profile and matching that to a pay scale, it is easy to see who in the organisation falls below or above it and where there are obvious gender pay gaps. The pay should match the job, not the individual employee, and there are plenty of useful toolkits available for undertaking equal pay audits.

Another step that employers in the education sector could take now is to foster flexible working arrangements for employees with childcare commitments. Undoubtedly, female employees often have to balance these commitments more so than their male counterparts and where possible these requests should be accommodated. This could apply to female employees currently working part-time who may wish to increase their hours due to reduced childcare commitments. 

Although measures will need to be taken if a gender pay gap is identified, employers are wise to avoid taking overtly drastic actions to rectify the problem. For example, increasing rates of pay or appointing women candidates into certain positions on the basis of gender could lead to successful sex discrimination claims being brought by male employees. This will be about striking a sensible balance between promoting equality without discriminating against particular groups of employees. For employers, this can often prove an extremely difficult exercise and not one that should be carried out at the last minute. 

The government has already indicated that it will adopt a ‘name and shame’ approach in respect of employers who fail to comply with the new regulations. Those who take action now to close the gender pay gap and to promote equality will be less at risk of public shaming. Instilling a culture of pay transparency across a teaching organisation can be an exciting process and should be approached and communicated as such. The result could lead to increased staff morale and prove a real selling point in attracting the best talent.

David Hession is a employment law solicitor at Simpson Millar W:

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