Why The Gender Pay Gap Figures Don’t Tell The Full Story

We need to be careful to delve the beneath headline data and keep the end goal in sight

The deadline has arrived for companies with 250 employees or more to publish their gender pay gap data. The purpose of these new regulations is to create inclusive workplaces in which all talents can thrive. Retail is the UK’s biggest private sector employer and the data from the retail industry provide an interesting insight into the reasons behind the pay gap, and why fewer women than men get to the very top of the career ladder. But to really do this, it’s important to delve beneath the headline figures to understand why the gap exists and how best to close it.

Retail has made great efforts in recent years to close the gender pay gap and the figures recently released show it’s doing well at this. But it doesn’t mean that we are delivering on all of our objectives to create inclusive workplaces.

In retail, over half of jobs are part-time and the gender pay gap data must be considered in that context. We know that women are proportionally more likely to work part-time than men. And we know, across the economy, there are more men than women working in more senior and higher paid roles.

The pay gap for part-time colleagues in retail is 0.8% whereas the pay gap for full-time colleagues is 7.1%. And with senior roles typically undertaken as full-time jobs, that pay gap points to an underrepresentation of women in full-time, senior roles. Improving opportunities for part-time and flexible working can help break down the barriers to women moving into more senior roles and this is something that the British Retail Consortium is proud to be working in partnership with Timewise to help our members deliver.

There are also wider issues driving the gender pay gap: more women than men in the UK tend to be carers, increasing the number of woman attracted to part-time work. Secondly, the cost of child care can make it more financially viable for one parent, typically mothers, to stop working for a period of time. And thirdly, children are exposed to occupational biases from an early age that are often reinforced in formal education.

These issues are not unique to retail. They are societal issues that impact all sectors in one way or another, and which require the focus of government policy to make real progress in closing the gender pay gap. Retailers will play their part to address the pay gap but cannot do it alone. Only when this range of issues is addressed will we start to tackle the real story behind the numbers.

To make real progress, it’s also important that we don’t allow the debate on inclusivity and equality be side-tracked by data that has been taken out of context. Nor should we make the leap from gender pay to equal pay. The gender pay gap is the percentage difference between the average earnings of men and women whereas equal pay refers to the right for men and women doing equal work to have equality in pay and other contractual terms. The two issues are separate and should not be conflated.

The retail industry has historically had a lower gender pay gap than the UK average. It’s a truly diverse industry, providing jobs to nearly three million people of all ages and backgrounds and in every community in the UK. But there’s more work to be done. We just need to be careful to delve the beneath headline data and keep the end goal in sight.


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