On the second day of lockdown, when the world was in turmoil, the Government quietly announced its decision to suspend the requirement for Companies to publish their Gender Pay Gap data. The announcement was clear that the decision means there will be no expectation on employers to report their data for the 2019/20 year.
The requirement to report, which has only been in place since 2017, ensures that all employers with more than 250 employees report and publish their gender pay gap data each year. The reporting cycle is for reporting to be complete for the previous year (to 31 March) by 30 March of the current year. Sadly, by suspending reporting on the 24th March 2020, much of the work that would have been completed ahead of the 30th March 2020 deadline, will now not see the light of day- probably to the relief of many employers whose data remains unjustifiable.
The Women’s Utilities Network (WUN) , which represents over 2,000 women in the sector, is now calling on companies operating in the Utility sector, both large and small, to lead in the voluntary reporting of gender pay gap reporting, until the mandatory obligation is reinstated. We also strongly endorse the reinstatement of reporting, both retrospectively for the 2019/20 year and for the 2020/21 year.
The statistics on gender pay gap for Utilities are woeful. Whist 141 companies in the sector reported their pay gap data in 2018/19, for this year, taking advantage of the Government’s suspension, the comparable figure is just 79 companies. Women in the Utilities sector are grossly under-represented at senior levels. For those companies that did report their data for 2019/20, the average percentage of women in the top pay quartile was a mere 18.1%. Using this as a proxy, we can infer that less than one in five people currently working in Utilities at a senior level is female. Across all sectors reporting for 2019/20 the equivalent percentage is 40.9%- so Utilities are clearly lagging behind other sectors. This is why WUN is so passionate about helping women, and the sector, change the dynamic. Lack of diversity at senior levels mean that businesses lack a variety of perspectives and skills, and importantly women in more junior roles cannot see enough role models in senior roles to inspire them to stay and develop within the sector. Worst of all, these figures represent those businesses that did report their gender pay gap data. It is entirely possible that the comparable figures for those that didn’t, are materially worse.
WUN’s key concerns surrounding the suspension of reporting are summarised below:
- Covid-19 and Business Culture
Covid is not going anywhere soon. Whilst, the justification to suspend reporting could be supported in the chaos that followed the lockdown announcement, we are now in a period where businesses are readjusting to enable them to operate and thrive in an enduring Covid environment.
As has been widely reported, it is women who have borne disproportionate career impacts as a result of Covid. Whether through the need to maintain home schooling, managing the care of vulnerable relatives or simply being more susceptible to the furlough scheme through the nature of role types, the virus, like a lot of historic business culture, discriminates in a work environment.
As we enter the really tough period of business survival with mass redundancies and reorganisations, WUN is very concerned that women will be disproportionately impacted either through pay or even representation. But how will we know, if there is no reporting? Given the starting point, Utilities cannot afford to go backwards.
- Shifting the balance is an enduring issue
Whilst it feels like Covid will be with us for ever, we all know that it won’t, and at some point it will fade from the spotlight. However, the balance of men and women in Boardrooms, Senior Management and Management roles will continue to be skewed unless an ongoing focus is maintained on addressing diversity and inclusion issues. Better decisions and better businesses are created through balance, but it will be easy to go backwards very quickly, using Covid as an excuse, if focus is not maintained on improvement. Balance is not a ‘nice to have’, it is an essential component of economic recovery.
Representation of women in the Utilities sector, as detailed above, is still woeful. We continue to lose talented women to other sectors. Through WUN’s ongoing work to support women in the sector, it is clear that there is still a huge challenge in levelling the playing field. We need to be able to give women confidence in their ability to rise through the ranks despite the challenging male dominated environment they often find themselves in.
Reporting gender pay gaps, is only one part of the solution, but it is an essential and measurable part. Most importantly the reporting is fact based which cannot be avoided or explained away. It forces businesses to keep a focus and take action.
We need the obligation for gender pay gap reporting to be reinstated as soon as possible and for all companies operating in the Utility sector to take the lead in voluntary reporting until this time. There is still time to ensure that the year of Covid can be accurately measured and its impact understood. We may not discover the full extent of the consequences of the pandemic until many months forward, but at least if it is measured and reported the conversation and focus will continue. The Women’s Utilities Network welcomes support for its call to reinstate reporting in the sector and on a national basis as soon as possible.