Head of Education Policy, Rob Marrs looks at gender pay gap reporting and our reasons for reporting when we are not legally obliged to do so.
In the weeks before 5 April, it seemed that every day there was a news story about an organisation publishing its pay gap. The stream of articles led to a torrent of opinion pieces about the gender pay gap in society at large.
From an equality and diversity perspective it was an interesting time: A number of practice units got in touch with me prior to reporting looking for advice and guidance. We also watched the emerging issue of whether or not partnerships should report partner remuneration which was kickstarted by two large accountancy firms choosing to publish their partner earnings.
Some of you may have noticed that we chose to report our pay gap even though we were not obliged to by the legislation.
This decision has prompted both praise and questions. Some members seemed genuinely delighted that their professional body had chosen to report. Others have got in touch questioning why we reported when we did not need to. Others still have queried the idea of the gender pay gap as a concept or noted that it was an imperfect measurement tool.
Regardless of the reason members got in touch, I was glad that people engaged with our equality work. It is entirely proper that members question a decision to voluntarily report and expect an answer. So why did we choose to turn the spotlight on ourselves?
Despite some media reports, we were not embarrassed to do so nor embarrassed by the findings. We actively chose to look at our statistics and chose to report – two separate processes – because in both cases we thought it was the right thing to do.
We thought it was the right thing to choose to look at our statistics because we did not know what the mean or median gender pay gap in our workplace was. Actually seeing the figures written down provoked thinking: why are comparatively few of our highest earners female? Why are so few of our lowest earners male? What can we do about it?
We could have run the numbers and analysed them internally. Instead of that route, we actively chose to report. Why?
First, we have undertaken a lot of work to help promote gender equality in the profession over many years. In 2015, we chose to publish the gender pay gap within the profession. In the same year we published our recommendations on how to improve diversity in the judiciary. In 2016, we ran a major digital campaign called ‘’Conversation on Progression’ and also published a series of guides to support parents in the profession. We also appeared at the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee of the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into the gender pay gap. We’ve supported Women in Law Scotland since their foundation and last year hosted a large conference on why equality was good for business. It seemed incongruous given our focus on pay to not report.
Second, we have been promoting voluntary equality and diversity standards for a number of years (please have a look at them and consider signing up!). So far, a relatively small number of practice units have chosen to adopt these. One of those standards is for those employing more than 150 staff to publish their gender pay gap. We believe these standards aligned with our excellent equal pay toolkit can make a tangible difference to the culture of the profession.
So it seemed dangerously close to ‘do as we say, not as we do’ to ask practice units to voluntarily report their pay gap and for us to weasel out of doing similarly. It simply wasn’t a tenable position.
Ultimately, reporting matters has brought into sharp focus big questions about recruitment, selection and progression here at the Society as it has across the economy. After all, it matters that men and women feel comfortable and able to work in roles across the economy and that they can progress within their organisations.
Those who argue that the pay gap exists because women choose to become mothers ignore the fact that the pay gap exists for women who do not choose to become mothers. Moreover, they fail to acknowledge that the gender pay gap and assumptions about caregiving obligations aren’t two separate issues: they are intrinsically linked.
Turning our eyes to the profession, we’ve heard that progress is inevitable for many years. Progress isn’t inevitable. It happens because people actively choose for it to happen and make decisions to make it happen. It should be noted though that after 24 years in a row of women outnumbering men at the point of admission, fewer than 30% of partners are female; fewer than 30% of solicitor advocates are female; and fewer than 30% of sheriffs and senators are female. It seems, like Maimonides awaiting the Messiah, inevitability may tarry.
Reading the reports of the larger legal firms in Scotland and the wider UK that have reported, it is clear they are beginning to seriously consider how to narrow their pay gap. A focus of that will be how women reach senior roles and do so in roughly the same timescales as their male colleagues. Each firm has set out a series of actions that they hope will tackle their pay gap. Progress might not be inevitable but it is far more likely when people decide they want it to happen.