Tackling gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps

Today the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a new strategy for tackling gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps. Their recommendations on the changes needed to address pay gaps in Britain are timely for many businesses who are preparing to report on their gender pay gaps. The breadth of their new strategy, Fair opportunities for all, will help employers think more holistically about inclusion and various CIPD research supports their assertion that a greater focus on flexible working opportunities across the labour market would enable individuals who are disadvantaged in the labour market, for whatever reason, to access and progress in work.

The right to request flexible working is available to all UK workers (who have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks), but is yet to be recognised as such in practice due to a complex interaction of societal and organisational factors. Over the past 15 years, flexible working provision has increased, but the range of flexible working arrangements offered remains narrow, largely restricted to part-time working and flexi-time, and actual uptake has changed little.

To make flexible working the norm rather than the exception, it’s crucial that organisations challenge assumptions about who it is for and why to encourage greater uptake. HR professionals have a critical role in questioning workplace cultures and busting the myths around what flexible working means and how it’s possible across a wide range of roles, to encourage businesses to act differently. HR also needs to make it clear that flexibility is not just about the hours people work, but is about fundamental job design. We know that a lack of flexibility at all levels of seniority is a barrier to people accessing work, returning, and progressing out of low-paid roles. Challenging traditionally rigid job design means employers can create ‘people-shaped jobs’ which will enable people in a wide range of circumstances both ‘get in’ and ‘get on’ in work, and so boost long-term productivity.

The EHRC’s research also highlights the complexity of tackling pay gaps across gender, race and disability. Government and employers need to understand the grass roots issues which will differ both within and between groups, and be aware of the intricacies of looking at overlapping identities, for example being a female and from an ethnic minority group. Our research points to the need for better workforce data to inform evidence-based solutions in a particular business sector and context. We therefore urge employers to get under the headlines of the pay gaps to make sustainable change happen, challenge any misconceptions that the gaps are entirely out of employers’ control and shun quick fixes that will only paper over the cracks.