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Reporting on gender pay: top tips on building an internal swat team

11 March 2016. Published by Kelly Thomson, Partner

Paving the road to transparency over the gap in gender pay, the Government continues to push forward with its plan to make it mandatory for organisations with over 250 employees to publish the disparity between what women and men are paid.

With the deadline for responses to last month's draft guidance looming today, it is time for the business community to start thinking and planning ahead.

The Government's guidance has helped to clarify a number of important points: employers will be expected to publish their mean and median hourly pay gap; bonus will have to be reported separate to salary; the number of men and women in each salary quartile will have to be published; and employers can choose the date on which they publish annually.

Most will see these clarifications as a welcome place to start pulling information together, but employers should pause for a moment. Rushing to publish figures without first looking at what the underlying story is could be potentially harmful to reputations externally, and internally might cause unrest.

Establishing an internal swat team of experts to help form a narrative around the numbers is the best path for a General Counsel to go down should they find themselves handed the responsibility of coordinating.

If the road is paved with well-sourced information and a clear story, the risk of reputation damage externally and unrest internally when pay figures are published is likely to be lower than if the numbers are published with little or no background information.

Knowing where to start can be tricky. The first move will be to collate the raw data. Reaching out to a mixture of Human Resources and Payroll for the information will, therefore, be the first step. HR can make sense of people numbers (male employees v female employees; full time v part time; age groups; career levels), while Payroll can help to group the pay figures to reflect the Government's guidelines.

Once those figures are in place, the next step is to develop a narrative around them. The key thing to remember is that the importance of the exercise extends far beyond just reporting figures, it is centred on the story of the company and why the figures are the way they are. GCs should ask themselves: if we were to publish these figures now, what would they look like and why?

One person who is key to building the story is a member of a dedicated Inclusion & Diversity team. Up until recently, most large organisations didn't have a dedicated team, never mind someone to head it. Today, the picture is different.

Building a narrative starts here. Most employees who are in a diversity role will have an expert opinion on the elements that are at play and can help to paint the backdrop to which the report will sit. Working closely with HR, they will typically have the broadest view of the various intersections of people who make up their organisation.

And to ensure that the right messaging from an organisation-wide perspective is weaved into the narrative, a member of the Communications department should form part of the team. Usually aware of most scenarios that could unfold when publishing sensitive information, someone in a Communications role will understand the need to ensure the right messaging is wrapped around the data for internal and external purposes.

Who within the senior management team signs off on the report will need to be agreed. As organisations work towards closing their own gender pay gap, the early reports may make for challenging reading. This will come as no surprise as on average, women are paid 20% less than men. To ensure complete independence and transparency, organisations may look to appropriate third parties to provide a non-biased opinion on the figures and report. That health-check will enable the company to sign with confidence.

These are our tips on how to set up your internal swat team, for a broader look at the draft legislation, check out my first blog on gender pay gap.

No matter what approach each organisation takes, the thing to remember is that the legislation is expected to come into force on October 2016 with publishing set to start in April 2018.