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The ESG News Review: A brighter but still blurry view of the UK’s gender pay gap

This has been a week of gender pay gap stories, which isn’t surprising given the recent annual UK reporting deadline for large company data.

Noting that although a handful of companies typically failed to report their data before the deadlines no fines for non-compliance had yet been issued, The Guardian summarised that the UK’s disparity was now at its smallest since the requirement was introduced.

In a similarly upbeat piece in the Sunday Times, flexible working policies were called out as helping to narrow the gap. In it, the chief people officer of PwC, highlighted as a large business that had made much progress in narrowing the divide, said having the reporting obligation “makes a huge difference because it tells our women that we’re serious about it. Having those sorts of targets keeps us accountable and keeps us focused.”

Yet other stories over the past week have given a far less positive view. Metro listed the 10 professionals in which men were still paid far more than women, headed by barristers and judges but with journalists creeping on too.

In the City, Goldman Sachs’ pay gap was now as its widest in six years, according to the Financial Times, with a 54% hourly rate disparity, in a piece that ended with a curt reminder that company’s reputations for being fair employers by gender are not just made of data and payment of current staff, but of alumni perspectives too. “Past and present women employees at Goldman acknowledge that the bank has made progress towards fostering a more balanced workforce but many say that the bank still has considerable progress to make,” it said.

And Reuters reported that women in UK large financial firms earn a third less than male counterparts, on average.

But with all the mild positives that can be taken from the information submitted, and with all of the comments and data from relative underperforming sectors that signalled there is still a long way to go, there were also a flurry of articles about the impact that hybrid or remote working is having on pay and career progression.

An interesting piece in Fortune outlined why men could be seeing a reverse pay gap where they work fully from home, as they have become twice as likely as office-based female counterparts to be passed over for promotion.

Although in an Economist podcast and article, the rise of “remote husband” was covered as a positive for female employees, making it more practical for men to share domestic and family duties by spending less time commuting and more working flexibly, while women could then ‘lean in’ more to office life and career development.

Many reports also spotlighted the continued size of the pay gap in the public sector. Women in Scotland have begun striking in protest.

As ever when the annual reporting information comes out, the media coverage it attracts tends to reflect on the new data, and draw conclusions about long-term change and shorter-term trends. It offers up facts, but there are far more nuances to whether companies are now fair and even-handed on pay and prospects, or getting there.

This year though at least, we are seeing more and more companies lean in to their data and use it to demonstrate their progress, rather than heavily caveating everything with this being a long road to follow. That said, there remains, in some companies and sectors more than others, much more to do.

The ESG News Review is written by Steve Earl, a Partner at PR agency BOLDT.

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