Equality Bill

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Q 108Lynne Featherstone: If someone who thinks that they are paid unequally takes a case, do you think that the necessity of having to find a real comparator plays a part?
Joyce Gould: Yes. The Women’s National Commission is very much in favour of hypothetical comparators. We will have to see how we progress that through the Bill.
Q 109Lynne Featherstone: You would like to bring that into the Bill, perhaps?
Joyce Gould: Yes.
Katherine Rake: I think that that makes a huge difference. The other thing is that often, people have to take a case alone. If the Bill had an ability for representative action, in addition to hypothetical comparators, that would make a huge difference. Many people whom we speak to, who have taken cases, say, “I know it is not going to make a difference to my life, but I am worried about the colleagues whom I have left behind.” Many of them would have left the employment by that stage, because they know that there is a systemic problem, and the ability to stand together to take cases is hugely important.
Q 110Lynne Featherstone: I am sure that we will debate those kinds of issues when we go through the Bill.
Emma Stewart: I just want to comment that in our perspective, one of the reasons why business has been so slow is that there are a huge number of myths, looking particularly at flexible and part-time working, which has enabled more women to enter the labour market after they have had children. In particular, there is a lack of services that can help businesses to understand how to implement flexible and part-time working. There are various specific examples, such as how to design jobs that are part time and flexible and how to train line managers in managing a flexible work force. The myth often persists around the perceived regulatory cost of flexible and part-time employees, which is not necessarily the case.
Q 111Lynne Featherstone: I thought that it was quite interesting when Mark, through the Chair, asked you if you were comparing part-time women with full-time men. There is obviously a huge differential. Once you go part time, you are not considered—the high jobs do not come in part-time packages. What can I do in the Bill to help with that? Is there some way? I understand that there is a whole raft of things outside the Bill in terms of training, education and working with employers. But is there anything in the legislation that you see that we can help you with? You do not have to answer now, but think about it. Inevitably, we will take the Bill through, and I am sure that we will all welcome external things. I am just looking to see whether there is something around that differential that we can work on.
Emma Stewart: I think that there is a raft of measures outside the Bill—certainly, ring-fencing and ensuring that there is a focus on auditing the part-time gender pay gap explicitly. In other areas of the Bill, such as procurement, we certainly advocate that in considering procuring good employers, there could be a commitment from those employers to provide a percentage of part-time, flexible jobs in their organisation.
Lynne Featherstone: Thank you.
Q 112John Penrose: I just want to pick up on the point about the gender pay gap. I was particularly interested in Baroness Gould’s point about there being many reasons for inequality in pay. Discrimination clearly is an important one, and I think that everyone in this room will be united in trying to find ways to sort that out. I am just a little worried, though, about the pay audits. Even if they are done in the way that Ms Rake was describing—following the guidelines to ensure that we are comparing like to like—is anyone on the panel worried? It might lead to a situation where we move from false negatives, where women are not able to bring cases when they should be able to, to a situation of false positives, where firms may be blamed for inequality in pay, which is not to do with discrimination. They might have done all the right things to ensure that they are not discriminating intentionally or unintentionally—following the two classes of discrimination that Ms Rake described earlier—but the inequality is due to disadvantage or some other reason. Is there a danger of that, or does the reporting guideline that Ms Rake described avoid it entirely, meaning that we would get no false positives?
Katherine Rake: If you design the pay auditing system correctly and as the code suggests, there is no danger of false positives.
You raised the broader point of where the boundaries of responsibility for individual employers and the state lie. Something that needs to be developed with this legislation is a set of measures for the Government’s own delivery. Clearly, the Government should not require other organisations to take action without making an equivalent commitment to things such as making quality part-time work available, improving structural provision to allow people to travel to the jobs they want more successfully, ensuring that transitions into and out of unemployment are supported appropriately, and child care provision. There are problems with every one of those measures, and it is not within the reach of an individual employer to address them.
That does not take away from the case for pay audits, but it shows that there must be an extended argument about the Government making a firm commitment to addressing women’s employment disadvantage more generally, and to do so using all the tools they have. They should be bold. We have a target to narrow the gender pay gap, but it does not specify by when and by how much. That should be the first measure the Government take to show that they are taking a lead by ensuring that they provide the circumstances in which employers can pay and promote women effectively.
Q 113John Penrose: I will follow up on that in a second. Do the other two panel members have a comment on the last question?
Joyce Gould: I do not disagree with that, although perhaps I do not agree 100 per cent. with the conclusion. I think that it is right. That is why, when I listed the things that I think cause disadvantage, they were Government responsibilities and not employer responsibilities. I agree with Katherine that alongside this there has to be a focus on what the state and Government are doing to get over some of the other problems. Some of that comes in other parts of the Bill, not least in the socio-economic area, which I think could make a big difference to women’s lives and might assist an awful lot in some of the areas I listed.
From a gender point of view, we must ensure that we have girl and women apprentices in training—I do not think that we should have an age barrier on apprentices—as well as the concentration that we tend to have on boys and men. We need to ensure that there is absolute equality in such provisions that we make. Another area is paternity leave. We should be looking not just at maternity leave but parental leave, so that we try to get the balance right between men and women in the work force and the facilities they have.
Q 114John Penrose: A final question on this. Let us assume that by one means or another we manage to eradicate discrimination by employers and that part of the gender pay gap goes tomorrow—we have a magic wand. How much of it would be left? Are we looking at a very small proportion of the problem here, with the other factors that contribute to the gender pay gap being much greater? Or is this by far the biggest thing and will only a small amount of it be left to address—all the other issues which Baroness Gould was talking about?
Katherine Rake: Discrimination is a tricky thing. It is quite difficult to observe directly, and as a former academic I know that it is difficult to register and measure directly. However, when people have decomposed the gender pay gap to look at the different elements that contribute to it, discrimination is the largest factor of all, the remaining factor. Having said that, there is an awful lot of penalty attached to working part time, to motherhood, to discontinuous labour market records, all of which are more familiar to women. But my belief is that if organisations get good at addressing pay discrimination, they also get good at diversity more generally, and promoting equality for women.
Where we see good practice in private sector organisations, for example, they tend not only to have pay auditing systems—very successful ones—but they also tend to promote more women into senior positions, have good flexible working policies, and have maternity and paternity provisions above and beyond the statutory minimum. They do that because they know that it delivers to them. In an economy that is dependent upon human resources, it delivers the bottom line to them because if they lose the skills of 52 per cent. of the population, they will not be effective organisations. I think that good practice on pay will feed through and make organisations wake up to a whole series of issues that they have elsewhere. There will be all sorts of positive benefits from addressing discrimination.
Joyce Gould: Again, I do not have a disagreement with that. I only make a couple of additional points. First, if we did this—taking the points that Katherine raised—we would be using women’s skills far more effectively, which would only be of benefit to the economy overall. Also, the removal of the pay gap would make women more economically sound, which would benefit the economy. It is a much wider agenda than just the pay gap—the consequences are much wider.
Emma Stewart: I support that, too. Under-utilising women’s skills has been proven to be a huge loss to the economy. It is also a huge cost to the economy in terms of the cost of child poverty to the Exchequer. There are definitely wider social implications in being able to address this. I have two thoughts on the gender pay gap no longer existing. One is that we would still need to ensure that there is sufficient volume of opportunity in terms of flexible work for new women entering the labour market. We know that there is a huge dearth of that at the moment. Addressing that through the gender pay gap within individual organisations will go part-way, but we need persistently to ensure that increasing opportunities exist.
Secondly, looking at flexible working practices for both fathers and mothers is an essential ingredient in this to ensure that we are looking at a change in work force culture going forward, which will enable both men and women with caring responsibilities to balance work and home life.
Q 115Mr. Boswell: May I pick up on this exchange first and ask one question about that, and one on another issue? I will ask Emma first and others may contribute. The question of access to employment seems quite important—particularly for women who may wish to work part time, or return to work part time. On Second Reading I referred to an article in Whitehall and Westminster World which talked specifically about the record of the civil service in making jobs available part time and advertising them as such. Could you tell us from your experience whether that is changing culturally and whether it is a problem concentrated in the public service, or is it also part of a systemic problem throughout the employment of women?
Emma Stewart: Being an organisation working with 2,000 employers in London, our experience is that it is starting to change. We are certainly seeing the impact of the recession changing a large number of employers’ perceptions about part time.
Q 116Mr. Boswell: So that is a positive as well as a negative?
Emma Stewart: That is a positive that we think needs to be promoted by highlighting the business benefits and efficiency gains that can currently be had in terms of part time, while moving forward to create sustainable quality part-time jobs with progression that will remain above and beyond the recession for women returners.
We are seeing a shift among SMEs, certainly in London, when the right messages are put across and the right access to support is given, towards a recognition that part-time work can be of value, and we know that there is a lot of good practice in the public sector. The challenge is to ensure that new jobs are created on a part-time and flexible basis, not that jobs are negotiated once women are looking to return to an existing employer.
Q 117The Chairman: Are there any other contributions?
Joyce Gould: What Emma says is absolutely right. There is evidence that employers who are taking on flexible working are benefiting from it. They are finding greater efficiency and less absenteeism, and all the evidence suggests that they are definitely now in favour and supportive of promoting flexible working. That will be a benefit.
Katherine Rake: I want to make one quick comment about legislative measures that might enable change to happen. Currently, you have the right to request flexible working but only after you have been in employment for a certain period of time, so the entry point is critical. If you have decided to change career after a break for looking after kids or, indeed, elderly relatives, it is very difficult to negotiate at that point. We think that day one rights to request part-time work would be a significant step.
The other legislative change, which would feed into broader cultural change, is extending rights to everybody, not just to parents. One of the problems is in the terminology. “Part-time” is a diminutive. It is compared with the norm, which is full-time. All of this dates from the industrial revolution and the male-dominated, male-designed workplace which, frankly, is totally anachronistic now. We all contribute in different ways, virtually as well as physically in the office, and do different hours. We need to get away from the notion that there is the normal way of working, which is full-time, and then there is the rest, which is part-time. Making the right to request flexible working available to all would be part of a culture change.
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