UL researchers call for mandatory reporting of gender pay gaps

A research team at University of Limerick has called on the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, to introduce legislation that would require employers to disclose the gender pay gap in their organisations.

The researchers made the call at the Gender Equality in Decision-Making (GEM) conference hosted in Dell EMC’s Cherrywood Campus in Dublin today (Thursday, September 22).

The call follows moves by the British Government to introduce legislation forcing employers with more than 250 employees to publish, on an annual basis, the difference between women’s and men’s earnings.

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2016 are expected to come into force this year. These regulations will compel employers to begin collating data in relation to differences in pay in Spring 2017, with the information to be made public 12 months later.

According to a 2015 Eurostat report, the gender pay gap in Ireland stands at 14.4%.  It has increased from 2008 levels{{ii}} showing that action is necessary to address the pay disparity between women and men.

The UL research team is led by Dr Christine Cross, senior lecturer in personnel and employment relations at the university. The team has published a best-practice guide for employers detailing actions that organisations can take to increase the numbers of women in senior decision making roles.

“One of the key reasons for the gender pay gap is the over-representation of men in senior decision-making roles, whilst the percentage of women in senior management roles remains stubbornly low,” Dr Cross said.

The project, carried out as part of the EU-funded PROGRESS programme, invites employers to sign up to a voluntary code of practice designed to facilitate greater gender equality in a range of HR processes.

Dr Caroline Murphy, researcher at University of Limerick, stated that “while tailoring organisational practices can facilitate the achievement of greater gender balance and equality, it is transparency and disclosure of organisational data that has the greatest potential to radically address gender inequalities”.

She added that “it is not enough for employers to simply pay lip-service to gender equality, they should show what actions they are taking to tackle it in the workplace”.

Marie Connolly, UL’s Human Resources Manager, Organisational Change, pointed to actions which have been ongoing in the Higher Education Sector to address gender inequality.

Ms Connolly referred to the Athena Swan initiative which requires all participating organisations to undertake, amongst many other requirements, regular gender audits before being considered for the award.
“Lessons could be learned by organisations in other sectors on how to improve gender balance in senior roles,” Ms Connolly stated, adding “diversity initiatives which require meaningful engagement” represent one of the best ways to prove to that organisations are “committed to the achievement of gender balance”.

The researchers hold that greater transparency in reporting of pay data would help to identify where inequality is occurring and facilitate progress in implementing equal pay. The team also suggests that to capture the full picture, data examining more than just gross hourly earnings should be captured since bonus payments and part-time working account for much of the difference in pay gap figures.

The research team went on to call for the public disclosure of pay data to be made a priority as part of the National Women’s Strategy and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.