Equality is not a new topic for civil engineers in an industry that is often derided for being too “male, pale and stale”.
Recent figures from the Institution of Engineering and Technology Skills and Demand in Industry survey show that women represent just 9% of the UK’s engineering workforce. So there is a lack of female representation across the profession, and then there is the problem of fair pay.
According to Office of National Statistics figures, the gender pay gap is 19.1% in the UK based on the difference between average gross hourly pay. This means, on average, for every £1 earned by men, women earn 80p.
There are obviously a range of reasons why women are on average earning less than their male counterparts, from the lack of women in senior positions and in high paying sectors, to the fact that women are more likely to be part-time workers. However, the real concern is unlawful gender inequality which sees some female workers undervalued and paid less than men in equivalent jobs.
Despite the 1970 Equal Pay Act, the disparity in salaries between men and women is still a major problem. Government’s bid to reduce pay inequality by introducing new regulations on gender pay gap reporting will open businesses up to intense scrutiny. Under the new rules, companies have until April 2018 to report mean and median overall pay for each gender. However, focusing on this 2018 deadline is rather misleading because the salary data will be captured in April 2017, allowing businesses 12 months to actually report the figures. The data must be signed off by someone at director or partner level, and will be published on a government website where it will remain for three years.
Speaking at a Major Projects Association’s roundtable event on gender pay gap reporting, law firm Clyde & Co partner Charles Urquhart said: “This is very much naming and shaming. These entities will be directly compared to their peers. It’s very much a league table.
“There’s no obligation to provide an explanation, but you’ll probably want to if you have reported a gap [in gender pay]. You’ll obviously want to say what you’re doing about it.”
After 45 years of equal pay laws doing little to even the playing field, it’s unsurprising that some remain sceptical over whether this latest government initiative will provide enough leverage to encourage companies to commit to narrowing the pay gap. However, Urquhart believes businesses should be encouraged by the fact that reporting these figures could prove to have tangible commercial benefits. He said: “You can use this to highlight your company as an equal opportunity employer, compared directly to competitors.” Urquhart added that as well as being a “valuable recruitment tool”, this could also differentiate businesses when they are bidding for projects.
As it stands, there are no penalties for non-compliance with the new regulations. However, failure to report this data could leave companies open to equal pay claims, with disgruntled employees using this evidence of non-compliance to support their case. Failure to comply could also be a bit of an “own goal” in the PR stakes if your competitors are making a virtue of themselves as equal opportunity employers, while your business remains conspicuous in its absence.
Depending on your company’s figures, the new regulations could offer an opportunity to gloat over rival firms, or it may serve to highlight that there is more work to be done in your business’ drive towards equality. If the data does highlight clear gender equality issues, there is scope for employers to show they are taking proactive steps to narrow the gap. But, be warned, taking swift action is key. Surely there’s only so long undervalued women in the industry will continue to accept less than their male counterparts.