The latest gender pay gap figures didn’t make for particularly pretty reading.
It might have been hoped that this year’s figures – filed by those companies with more than 250 employees – would have shown the difference in pay for men and women narrowing.
In fact, by some measures, the gap has actually got worse.
For instance, the UK’s national median gender pay gap for full-time workers in public and private sector organisations is now 9.6 per cent, compared to 9.2 per cent last year.
And while 48 per cent of reporting companies said they had closed their gender pay gaps, 78 per cent still pay men more than women.
Of course, the bald figures do not necessarily tell the full story. Firms will argue that some of the reasons for the differences in pay originate outside the workplace – in education for example – and that they are only now at the beginning of trying to do something about it.
They will also point out that the implementation of family-friendly policies often skews the figures unfairly, because it is often women who take advantage of them the most to take career breaks or work flexibly.
But it’s hard not to be left with the impression that there is a fair degree of excuse-making going on here.
Too many companies where the gap has widened have claimed they cannot fast-track women into senior roles quickly enough to make a significant difference. Fair enough – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying and certainly does not excuse the fact that the gap has widened.
If we really wanted to sort this problem out, be in no doubt that we would. If a succession of high-profile male newsreaders at our national broadcaster had revealed they were paid less than their female colleagues, do you think the media – and society in general – would have been quite so relaxed about it?
No company has so far been fined for routinely paying men more than women, even though the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) sent enforcement letters to more than 1,400 organisations after the first year of reporting.
And whilst companies are required to give basic data about the difference in men and women’s pay, they don’t have to back it up with any plan to improve the situation. So there is really no way of knowing if things are being done in the long term to change things for the better.
Some say they are victims of their own success – employing more women than 12 months ago but being forced to introduce them at the lower end of their salary scales. Wait a few years to allow them to climb the greasy pole and the figures will improve, they say.
But without a requirement for a detailed plan, how can we put any faith in such claims? And why not employ more women in higher-paid jobs to try to address the situation? Are we really saying that such talented women simply do not exist?
This is a complex problem and there are no easy answers. But one thing is certain. We simply cannot go on treating half the population as second-class citizens in the workplace.
It’s time for the men at the head of most these companies – and unsurprisingly they are men - to stop the excuses and start doing something about it.