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Gender Pay Gap

Volume 796: debated on Tuesday 5 March 2019


Asked by

My Lords, it is fantastic that over 10,000 employers reported gender pay gap data last year. With this year’s deadline now less than a month away, I look forward to seeing what progress they have made. We know that reporting is just the first step, and that is why we are now working hard with employers to help them understand their gender pay gaps and getting them to put plans in place to tackle them.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, but she will have seen the Guardian’s report showing that no sanctions have been taken against companies that have filed wildly inaccurate, bogus reports or even no reports. New research by the Young Women’s Trust shows that two-thirds of companies do not have any plans in place to close their gender pay gap. Does she agree that it is time to consider legislation to require employers to develop those positive action programmes? Will she consider making employers include all salary details in job adverts, which would aid transparency and go some way to closing the gap?

On companies that have perhaps submitted bogus returns—that is, returns that are not credible—I know that the EHRC is working with companies to help them improve their accuracy. They can be obliged to put in place action plans where they have submitted inaccurate data, and this is what we are helping them to do. I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness’s point on salary details, because quite often they are completely opaque and might depend on who the employer sees on the day—so I agree with that. On a positive note, we have come an awfully long way. We are the first country in the world to require companies with more than 250 employees to submit gender pay gap data.

My Lords, the requirement for companies to publish their gender pay gap figures has shone a bright light on a hitherto dark place. In many firms, the situation is getting worse, not better. As the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, says, poor recruitment methods are a big part of the problem, leading to women taking jobs below their abilities and below salary levels that they should command. The recently published Women and Work All-Party Parliamentary Group report, How to Recruit Women for the 21st Century, points the way. The Minister has talked about working with employers. Will she take the lead and update the 2011 quick-start guide to positive action in recruitment?

I take the noble Baroness’s final point, and I will have a look at the 2011 report. I must apologise that, as there was a strange noise coming from behind the noble Baroness—it might have been someone’s mobile phone—I did not quite hear all of her question. As to the position getting worse not better, the figures on 4 April will be revealing, and the sort of action that we and others will need to take will certainly be guided by those results.

Does my noble friend the Minister agree that plans to require all large companies to publish their parental leave and pay policies will improve transparency and ultimately help with the gender pay balance in the workplace?

All those initiatives by companies help to shed light on the types of companies that are employing people; their ethical, gender-based policies and parental leave are only a part of that. As to flexible working, the Government are trying to go further in enabling anyone who wants to work flexibly to be able to do so.

My Lords, on 11 February last—less than a month ago—my noble friend Lady Prosser asked whether the Government would consider legislating to require employers to develop positive action plans for measures such as all-women training schemes and quality part-time jobs. The Government Minister replied from the Dispatch Box, in a somewhat non-committal way, that these measures were good practice for companies and that some companies are adopting them. Does the Minister believe that that was an adequate response?

I hope I am always eloquent—not always, maybe—but legislating for positive action by discriminating against men, if you like, is not what we want to do. Certainly the Government supports equality of opportunity, but we will not legislate for positive action.

Can the Minister confirm that the great majority of policies such as those on parental leave come from the blessed European Union? They were negotiated by the social partners—which, translated into English, means the trade unions and the employers—at European level because, on that basis, people would not be undercutting each other by doing it on a national basis.

On the blessed Europe, I have to say to the noble Lord that we are streets ahead of Europe in equalities legislation.

My Lords, the theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BalanceforBetter, but so far some companies are not even asked to properly balance their books. As my noble friend Lady Nye said, the Guardian reported last week that the companies that filed inaccurate numbers for last year’s gender pay gap deadline have not been sanctioned and some incorrect data have not been corrected a year later. What will be done differently this year to ensure that the quality of reporting is an improvement on last year? Does the Minister agree that transparency is welcome but it will be ineffective if there is a failure in making progress?

I agree with the presumption of the noble Baroness’s question. She is absolutely right about better-quality data coming forward: it is what both employers and employees want. I know that the GEO has been running a series of interactive sessions with employers to try to help them develop their action plans. I also know that the Government have provided two further pieces of guidance for employers and employees as they develop action plans to address the gender pay gap.

My Lords, this week the Church Investors Group, which has assets of £21 billion, will vote against the chairs of boards of big firms that have poor policies on tax and climate change. From now on, the 67-member group will put pressure on companies that have no women directors. Does the Minister agree with that approach? Does she also agree that it is a welcome step that companies can no longer get away with such dire records of female representation in management positions?

I certainly agree with the right reverend Prelate. He will recall that we had a real push to increase women’s representation on boards under the Davies review. When we started off, that representation was something like 12% and it has now risen to over 30%—I think that that is where we are now, or maybe it is just short of 30%—so we have made huge strides. I do not think that companies any longer want all-male, white boards, because that really does not give the diversity or balance that is representative of society.