It’s about more than transparency: Closing the gender pay gap

Labour Party

Of course I welcome the news that the government will introduce measures which will force large firms to declare data on the gender pay gap among staff.

But the truth is that the Tory led coalition was slow to act on pay transparency. The consultation, starting today, was first introduced in the final months of the coalition. But Labour has called for tougher, more rigorous annual equal pay checks which are clearly necessary considering women earn 81p for every £1 earnt by male colleagues.

The gender pay gap isn’t a new issue so why has it taken a whole term in Parliament before the government acted? Had the last government not been a coalition then we might not even be at this point today.

It is not yet clear how successful the move will be in forcing companies to act on pay and bring women’s wages into line with their male colleagues. Legislation introduced in the last parliament (despite Conservative opposition) will help no doubt. Firms with more than 250 employees must publish the average party of male and female employees.

Late last year the Office for National Statistics suggested that for the first time, since records began in 1997 the gender pay gap had narrowed, albeit by a small margin. It still sits at just under 10%. This is incredibly un-ambitious progress as is the fact that the number of women in executive positions in the FTSE 100 has risen by just four since 2012.

It was therefore misleading when the government announced that its target of getting at least a quarter of women on boardroom seats in the UK’s biggest firms by 2015 had been met.

Again, I believe we should be far more ambitious. We need to set targets for executive positions, not just non-executive director roles. Otherwise it will take more than a generation to end gender inequality in the workplace.

According to the Cranfield School of Management Female FTSE Board Report 2015, just 24 (8.6%) executive directors in the FTSE 100 are women, up from 20 (6.6%) in 2012 with only 22 of the FTSE 100 having any female executives on their boards.

Meanwhile, EU legislation on quotas for women on company boards has gone through the European Parliament and is now just awaiting approval from the European Council (which comprises of the heads of states of the 28 member states).

We must also not forget that unequal treatment around pregnancy is one of the major drivers of the gender pay gap, so Cameron’s government must address this too because its an absolutely crucial part of the gender pay gap jigsaw. Indeed, it was Cameron’s failure to support the proposed revision of the maternity directive which was in part responsible for the entire proposal being withdrawn in the EU.