How retailers can tackle gender pay gaps

Retail Gazette looks at how retailers can work towards pay equality among their staff and how the ongoing Covid pandemic has affected women in the workplace.

How can retailers tackle pay gaps within their workplace and can unequal pay in the workplace be harmful for employees.
“Diversity is the reason why some organisations succeed and some don't." - Caroline Whaley

It may be 2021 now, but the issue of gender pay gap is still very much something that needs to be addressed in all sectors in the UK. Retail especially.

According to most recent data from the ONS, the UK gender pay gap in 2019 was 17.3 per cent. This means that on average, women earn only approximately 83p for every £1 paid to their male counterparts. That difference is almost one-fifth.

“At the rate of progress pre-Covid, it would take 60 years to eradicate the gap,” explained Monica Atwal, managing partner at Clarkslegal.

“Job security, economic and caring responsibilities of course impact males but the burden has been borne by females.

“It is the prevalent persistent worry and lack of opportunity for female workers that may be the second pandemic.

“But this is ultimately a time of reflection, action and hope.”

Nonetheless, there are steps retailers can take to address gender pay gaps within their workforce. Amanda Augustine, careers expert for TopCV, said the more transparent a business is about its criteria and decisions regarding pay for its employees, the less likely gender bias and pay gaps would occur. She also pointed to a PwC study that found gender pay gaps in UK retail were primarily driven by the relatively low number of women in senior roles in this sector.

“If retailers want to address the pay gap, they must also address the ‘opportunity gap’ by focussing on initiatives such as mentoring schemes and management training programmes that will encourage female workers to advance their careers,” Augustine said.

Alex Christen, employment lawyer at Capital Law, said there were various steps retailers could take to ensure pay systems are transparent.

“Retailers should first understand the full picture and the causes of any pay gaps between men and women doing equal work in their organisation, so they can tackle any existing inequality,” she told Retail Gazette.

“Equal pay audits are a useful tool in gaining this understanding.

“Retailers should avoid applying different rates of pay – including non-basic pay such as overtime or commission – to different groups of people and they should regularly review their pay scales and systems to ensure they remain fit for purpose.

“Those making pay decisions should receive effective unconscious training, with the hope of avoiding any unintended pay differentials.”

Meanwhile, Augustine said unequal pay in the workplace could be harmful for various reasons.

“Systemic unequal pay leads to a toxic work environment”

“It reduces workplace diversity at all levels of the organisation, creates a culture of distrust, and ultimately decreases employee morale and productivity,” she said.

A 2016 study from Columbia University found that women who made less money than their male counterparts, despite being equally qualified for their jobs, were 2.4 times more likely to experience depression and four times more likely to have anxiety. This in turn affects their behaviour on the job, giving way to increased burnout and absenteeism, as well as reduced productivity.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the retail industry, could it become a catalyst for even greater pay inequality for women?

According to research from the Fawcett Society, the pandemic has had a “devastating’” impact. It said mothers were more likely to have had their work disrupted due to unequal caring roles and a lack of childcare while men were more likely to have work placed under furlough, and to have had their salary topped up.

“The second lockdown looks set to hit women working in hospitality and retail hard while predominantly male-dominated sectors like construction and manufacturing are still at work,” Fawcett Society chief executive Sam Smethers explained.

Augustine agreed: “Unlike previous economic crises where job loss has been greatest in male-dominated industries, this pandemic is hitting female-dominated fields — think beauty salon, hospitality, and, yes, retail — as hard, if not harder, than traditionally ‘male work’.

“In addition, thanks to widespread closures of schools and nurseries throughout the pandemic, many women have been forced to put their careers on hold to accommodate their children’s education and development.”

Research from University College London found that working mothers were considerably more likely to have given up their jobs than fathers with children of the same age.

“Unfortunately the repercussions of this pandemic will be felt for many years to come, deepening the ‘motherhood penalty’ many women already experience at work,” Augustine added.

Atwal said: “The world of work has been upended, we have coped with seismic change and have a unique opportunity to re-imagine the way forward.

“But this a requires systematic and comprehensive approach eliminating disadvantage and harnessing the value of a diverse community.

“Automation and hybrid working (part home/office working) will have consequences for industries that existed on the previous models such as hospitality, facilities, transport.”

Meanwhile, Christen said employees who have concerns about their pay should raise it either informally or formally through their employer’s grievance or related processes.

“It may be that their employer has a good and lawful reason for applying a different rate of pay,” he explained.

“If not, the employee can bring a claim for equal pay and possibly a discrimination claim in the employment tribunal.”

Augustine agreed, urging women to speak up and “not let the issue slide”.

“Set up a meeting with your manager to discuss your compensation and request remuneration,” she said.

A diverse workplace is important for businesses as it can lead to increased creativity. This is because employees of different genders, sexualities, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds are more likely to have different experiences and thus be able to contribute with different perspectives.

“The pandemic will only exacerbate pay inequality for women.”

“Including diversity allows us to recruit talent that might otherwise not want to work for our company,” explained Stephen Frost, founder of global diversity and inclusion consultancy Frost Included.

“It allows us to shift the conversation away from simply pay and conditions and a transactional employee relationship, to a far more valuable emotional and personal relationship.

“Including diversity also allows a company to interact with a more diverse customer base.

“Generally speaking, a business wants to be ahead of the market. As the market changes and becomes more diverse, you want to capture as much of that change within your organisation as possible.

“Unless you are an antiques business whose value is created by preserving the past, change is essential.

“Bring the outside in, reap the rewards and insights and stay in the game.”

Caroline Whaley, co-founder of Shine, a company dedicated to making business more human by enabling more women to reach the top, agreed.

“When you have diversity in organisations, you benefit from a wealth of different perspectives, different points of view, richer ideas based on wide-ranging experience,” she said.

“We cannot afford to let the progress made around diversity in the workplace, to be wiped out by the Covid crisis.

“Diversity is the reason why some organisations succeed and some don’t.

“As we recover from the pandemic, continuing to offer flexibility to working hours and location provides an opportunity to get women back, and keep gender equality on the agenda.

“This relates to men who have kids too, by the way. A lot of people struggle to balance work and family life.

“Building flexibility into how we can go about work will enable a far more diverse workforce.

“This will lead to more engagement, innovation and long-term productivity.

“Employers must keep gathering and publishing their data around diversity. This must not be allowed to slip because of the disruption Covid-19 has inflicted.”

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