As Britain’s large employers disclose their pay statistics under the Gender Pay Gap Regulations, the Law Society of Scotland has just reported a median gap of 21% in favour of men. Across the board, figures have ranged from 80% in favour of men to those employers – about 14%, apparently – who have a pay gap in favour of women.

Opinion has been divided as to the value of the exercise. If it has brought to light cases that would found an equal pay claim, or where men have been paid much larger bonuses without real justification, the regulations will have served some purpose. There are also those who argue that the whole profile of the issue has been raised, giving women greater confidence to challenge their own situation if they feel poorly treated. It may also bring a renewed focus on the respective caring roles of the genders and the level of support that should be provided.

But the figures can also be very misleading. The biggest issue is that the crude percentages are frequently read as a measure of discriminatory treatment. Yet if more women than men happen to be working part time, no allowance is made for this; likewise if gender equality (by numbers) has not yet reached the higher levels of an organisation, something which is now the subject of separate and increasingly active monitoring. There is not even a comparison of like-for-like jobs or qualifications. (For an interesting critique of the regulations, see for example our blog of the month on p 8.)

Gender pay gap reporting could play a much more meaningful role. By focusing more on true comparisons it would expose more effectively the remaining cases of real discrimination, while highlighting the disadvantages in career progression faced by women who take the greater burden of family responsibilities – the annual Journal employment survey of the profession, which we report on each December, has turned up some interesting data.

This year the Society will run the successor to its 2013 Profile of the Profession survey, the results from which have steered much of its equality and diversity work over the years since. It is to be hoped that the methodology, and the analysis, will enable a more accurate picture to be drawn of where we are and where action is needed than the Gender Pay Gap Regulations seem likely to produce.