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How HR can pioneer equal pay

Gender pay gap reporting in the UK has been mandatory since 2017, but progress remains slow - how can HR professionals challenge the status quo to improve pay parity for all?

Reporting pay gaps is one thing but without an action plan to tackle it companies can flounder in their efforts to tackle disparity, and many may think reporting is useless.

Here we list the four biggest barriers to pay equality, with top tips on how HR can overcome them.


1. Leadership buy-in 

Shifting outdated mindsets, and in some cases disbelief, to pay disparities among leadership is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of achieving equality.

Helen Giles, director of people and culture at Revitalise Respite Holidays, admits that bringing leadership along on initiatives to improve gender pay can be tough.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “In my experience [through my consultancy briefs] executives and board members are really resistant to either allowing flexitime arrangements or to learning new ways of recruiting and selecting.”

The public visibility of gender pay gap reporting can be helpful to hold leadership to account she said, but ultimately it is about persuasion.

She added: “It's a matter of highlighting - when everything else that has been tried to shift stubbornly unmoving gaps - that if they keep doing what they've always done, then they will get what they've always had, so they have to take a leap of faith and try radical new approaches.”

Negotiating with leadership:

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2. Flexibility

When Giles was executive director of people and governance at homeless charity St. Mungo’s, in 2018 and 2019 the company achieved a zero gender pay gap.

Genuine flexibility, she said, was one of the main things that contributed to this success.

It also bolsters the ways women thrive at her current organisation Revitalise.

The company has a pay gap favouring women partially due to the nature of the social care sector, as two thirds of the workforce are women.

Its executive team are 83% female, as are the majority of its managers.

“Flexible working hours is the single most powerful thing I have always found in enabling women with caring responsibilities to take on senior roles,” Giles told HR magazine.

“I think that a lot of organisations are offering hybrid working and think that is flexible, but it's not if people end up working unpaid overtime.”

Top tips for flexible work:

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3. Selection processes

Objective recruitment and selection processes are also critical according to Giles, and bias can be overcome by writing person specifications that are balanced when it comes to experience.

She added: “The ongoing tendency of organisations to expect, for example, a finance director vacancy to be filled by a finance director, means that the same (often white male) people are recycled around organisations.

“In fact most jobs are better done by someone who is stepping up rather than moving sideways.”

Eliminating bias in recruitment and selection:

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4. Outdated policy

Economic and social inequality campaign charity The Equality Trust, has launched a toolkit to help employees negotiate equal pay.

Compiled through consultation with trade unions, legal experts and HR professionals, the toolkit asks staff to encourage their employer to:

  • Be transparent about additions and changes to recruitment, flexible working, parental leave and pay policies, as well as the rationale behind them
  • Regularly review the impact of any changes and compare equality outcomes before and after
  • Develop mandatory training for all line managers on policy changes

It also signposts employers to key advice and tools, such as the United Nation’s HeForShe equal pay solidarity movement which employers can commit to.

Sophi Berridge, senior campaigns officer at The Equality Trust, told HR magazine: “Despite the passing of the Equal Pay Act over fifty years ago there is still a disconnect between the law and the systems used in many workplaces.

“Not only is having robust and inclusive practices the right thing to do, it also has a positive impact on internal culture and raises their external profile. Changes to policies are a great first step but embedding inclusive practices into an organisation is a crucial next one.”

Improving equality through policy:

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