From education to employment

Gender Pay Gap: is your college one of the good guys?

Luke Menzies, Director, Menzies Law, specialist employment law firm.

In a recent talk I gave on the Gender Pay Gap to the AoC Employment Law conference, I surprised the delegates with the fact that the education sector as whole has a whopping 25% Gender Pay Gap (GPG). That’s against the national average of 18.1%. 

A GPG of 25% means the education sector is one of the worst sectors in the country.  Who would have thought?  However, education is a broad sector and my work on FE colleges’ GPGs and pay equality suggests that FE is not the problem, the figure is likely to have been inflated by Oxbridge and Russell Group universities.  The data I’ve accumulated suggests that many FE colleges are looking at a GPG of around 10% and that there are other education bodies with far higher gaps that are the bad guys. 

It’s frustrating having to wait for the outpouring of GPG data that’s going to occur from April, as employers with 250 or more employees start to publish their data and upload it to the Government’s searchable database. But let’s go back to the beginning for a moment and look at what’s been happening.

Public sector included in Gender Pay Gap reporting requirement

When the GPG mandatory data reporting obligations were first announced, the Government only intended to cover larger employers in the private and voluntary sectors.  However, on 16 August, while many of you were hopefully taking a well-earned summer holiday, the Government announced that it had changed its mind and the public sector in England would be included too, with the same first reporting date of 5 April 2017. This has left very little time for public sector organisations, like colleges, to prepare.

A look at HE

While we wait for everyone’s reported data, it’s interesting to look at our friends in Higher Education.  Recent academic studies suggest that the post-1992 universities are likely to have very low GPGs – perhaps under 3% in some cases.  On the other hand, Russell Group universities may well have GPGs of at least 15-20%.  

10% would still be a problem

Now, if yours is a college that ends up having a 10% GPG, that is certainly better than 25% but it’s still a sizeable gap none the less, and one that will need your careful attention.  Questions to ask are; Why do your male employees get paid so much more on average, and do you want to work for an organisation that allows this to happen in 2016?  Why are there more men in senior, higher paid roles than ought to fairly be the case? Are your recruitment, pay and promotion processes truly free of gender bias?

Equal pay risk

Having a GPG doesn’t, by itself, indicate that you are likely to be facing equal pay claims, of course.  Equal pay is an individual right to claim if you are being paid less than a colleague of the opposite sex who is doing the same work as you – or similar, or of equal value to you.  A high GPG for an organisation doesn’t mean that there is any unequal pay within it, because the GPG is just a statistical average.  However, having a notable GPG does still put your organisation at an increased risk of scrutiny, both internal and external.  Questions will be asked, the unions will investigate and probe, and it’s a risk we need to take seriously.  The UCU has already made the GPG a major plank of its campaigning. 

Get stuck in

So it’s time for every college HR team – and Finance too – to get to grips with calculating their GPG, taking stock and working out a plan. What will your gap be and how will you explain it when you have to publish?  I would strongly recommend getting an Equal Pay audit done at the same time, to identify any areas of risk for equal pay claims, so that these can be tackled. 

Luke Menzies, Director, Menzies Law, specialist employment law firm.

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