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Closing The Gender Pay Gap

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After much high-profile discussion on the worldwide gender pay gap problem among Hollywood stars and BBC TV presenters over the past few months, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has recently published a report called “Understanding The Gender Pay Gap In The UK” to uncover the extent to which the gender pay gap affecting regular employees can be explained by gender neutral factors.

The UK’s gender pay gap currently stands at 18.4% and the ONS found that just 36.1% of those instances could be attributed to factors such as age, tenure, working pattern, occupation, work region, business size and sector. This of course means that there is no excusable factor for the majority of cases (63.9%), though the report doesn’t take into account family structures, education, number of children and other caring responsibilities, which it concedes could affect some of the 63.9%.

Many of the UK’s European neighbours are placed above us in the latest World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, published in 2017, so is it time that the UK took a leaf out of their books to improve our situation? Despite Western Europe being the highest-performing region, with four Nordic countries in the top five in the world, only 9 of the 20 countries in the region improved their pay gap in 2017, with 11 seeing it widen, so shouldn’t we all be looking to our Nordic neighbours to lead the way?

In Sweden, Finland and Norway, salary is a matter of public record, rather than the taboo subject it is in the UK. Everyone’s income tax returns are published there, and no one is at all coy about what they earn. Try asking your boss, neighbour or even colleague what they earn and watch their response. The pay transparency in these countries has an obvious knock-on effect with companies paying men and women fairly – possibly even without the fines that are in place in Sweden for example, should a business with more than 25 employees not attempt to close any pay gap. In Sweden, for men and women in the same job, the pay gap is down to 6%.

Norway very publicly decided to pay their female professional footballers the same as their male counterparts last year – something unthinkable at the F.A. in the UK at the moment. Yet Norway is second on the world list, only behind Iceland, the world leader for nine years straight when it comes to tackling the gender pay gap. Iceland has passed bills to attempt to eradicate their pay gap entirely by 2022, and have become the first nation to make it illegal to pay men more than women. There was no opposition to the bill – almost 50% of the Iceland parliament members are women.

From April this year, the UK is bringing in gender pay gap reporting, which will require employers with over 250 employees to publish their gender pay gaps. For the UK, it is most definitely a step in the right direction, but there’s some way to go if we’re to move up that league table and compare ourselves with our Scandinavian friends.