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Will 2018 be a watershed year for equal pay?

April sees the end of the first year of the requirement for companies with 250 or more employees to report gender pay gap information.

At the time of writing only 530 of an anticipated 9000 affected businesses have reported, so the last quarter of the reporting year is going to be busy.  Why is everyone leaving it so late?  Are certain organisations hoping unfavourable statistics might get lost in the final rush maybe?  Certainly a number of organisations who have published already have been at the receiving end of poor publicity about their figures - most recently Shell revealing a 22% pay gap.  But it was perhaps the BBC who really suffered, albeit their figures were published as part of their annual report and not in direct response to the GPG reporting requirements.

The issue for the BBC hasn't gone away either - considerable media coverage has been given this week to the resignation of BBC China editor Carrie Gracie who cited inequality of pay as the reason for leaving.  The follows on from Sir Philip Hampton reportedly suggesting last year, in the immediate aftermath of the BBC statistics being published, that female journalists themselves had allowed the pay gap to happen.  In an interview with a newspaper he was reported as saying he had "never, ever had a woman ask for a pay rise".

With reference to the situation at the BBC he reportedly said "How has this situation arisen at the BBC that these intelligent, high powered, sometimes formidable women have sat in this situation?  They are all looking at each other now saying 'How did we let this happen?'  I suspect they let it happen because they weren't doing much about it."

Hampton is the co-chair of a government commissioned review into increasing the number of women in senior business roles and questions were asked about whether he should retain his role.

According to the newspaper report at the time, Hampton's personal experience of employees asking for pay rises were that while no female had ever made such a request "There isn't a list long enough for all men who've asked".  It doesn't say how many (if any) of those men were successful in their request, but, in the future, is taking the initiative and asking for a pay rise going to be a waste of time?

Let's take the example of Jack and Jill.  They are both in the same role, both perform well and both are paid £35,000 per annum.  Jack believes he is worth a bit more, pulls together some supporting information and arranges a meeting with his boss.  The boss thinks Jack probably is worth a bit more money.  He thinks Jill is too.  But it's only Jack that is asking the question.  And anyway, is it not more cost effective and less risky to just keep both Jack and Jill on the same lower salary?

Of course, the example above falls into the same trap as Sir Phillip seems to have done - it assumes that Jack will ask for a pay rise but Jill will not.  It also assumes that they were on the same salary to begin with.  Statistics suggest that both these assumptions are wrong.   Data from a study involving the University of Warwick and the Cass Business School, as well as a US university, found no difference in the likelihood of men and women asking for a pay rise.  However, men were 25% more likely to get the pay rise when they asked and therein lies the problem.

Sir Phillip never claimed to have direct knowledge of what happened at the BBC, and he was quick to respond on the basis that he had not intended to suggest that female journalists were at any fault at all.  When the salary details were published over 40 female journalists wrote an open letter to BBC Director General Tony Hall calling for him to act now to tackle the gender pay gap.  Lord Hall's response, as well as highlighting that the BBC hoped to be able to close the gap earlier than the 2020 target they first announced, included a statement that "when figures are published next year I am confident they will look very different". 

In fact, it is unlikely that the reporting deadline in April 2018 is going to be a watershed moment for the organisations who must report as, unlike the BBC, this will be their first report.  Rather, as identified by Lord Hall, for those with significant gaps, it will be whether the following year's figures "look very different".  So for most it will be the figures to be published by April 2019 that will be make or break in terms of gender pay gap public relations.  For Lord Hall the next BBC annual report is likely to be published in July 2018. Come the summer, will they look like leaders in equality of pay, or perpetuators of outdated working practices? Watch this space….