Can we be better than the BBC? by Emma Sell, BDBF

Emma Sell By Emma Sell
from Brahams Dutt Badrick French

This article was originally featured as a column in the October issue of LPM. To read the issue in full, download LPM.

On the same day that the SRA opened its portal to upload law firms’ diversity data, the BBC published its pay report – and, well, we all know what happened there. The SRA diversity questionnaire doesn’t require firms to include details of its employees’ salaries or bonuses – yet. But I wonder how many HR or compliance officers were reading the reports and gossip coming out of the BBC as they diligently uploaded their data and thanked their lucky stars that the SRA doesn’t insist on that level of reporting.

Most of LPM’s readership will be excluded from the obligations of the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017, which came into force in April 2017 and requires companies with more than 250 employees to publish and report their gender pay gap data and provide a written statement on their public-facing website. Unlike the BBC, this data is anonymised and will set out mean and median figures and the proportion of men and women receiving bonuses together with the proportion in each pay quartile.

Given that the gender pay gap currently stands at 19.1% it will be interesting to see if the requirement to collect and publish this data has caused companies to narrow the gap.

What does this mean for SME law firms like ours without this reporting ‘burden’? On a literal basis, nothing at all – but from a strategic point of view there are benefits to carrying out this exercise and drilling down into the results to see what lies behind any disparity.

There could be many reasons women’s pay currently falls short of their male counterparts. There might, for example, typically be more women filling administrative roles and more men in senior management positions, and also a geographic correlation in that the administrative capabilities of firms could be outsourced to the regions and the highest paid management roles are based in London, which could also skew the figures.

The seemingly likeliest reason for the 19.1%, gap, however, is the fact that women spend more time out of the country’s workforce and make up the majority of part-time workers. If, upon seeking to re-engage in working life, they are asked for their previous salary details then it could be the case that they will be offered a salary closer to that amount than that which someone who has worked continuously would command. In the US, some cities have banned employers from seeking salary histories.

So, what are the benefits to going down this route when we don’t have to? Firms can gain a better understanding of their business and the people in it, it demonstrates leadership and a commitment to employees’ career paths, and it can help set clear targets upon which to measure progress. By committing to look closely at this data, women may feel more integrated and valued on returning to work after long periods out.

While there is no obligation on SMEs to publish this data (although the government doesn’t mind if you want to), it is something that could help foster a more transparent internal culture, and taking diversity seriously is something that clients are fast becoming aware of. In a competitive legal market, your level of equality could be the thing that sets you apart.

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