The UK Has Taken A Giant Step Toward Closing Its (Also Giant) Gender Wage Gap

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British officials have come up with a new strategy for combating the gender pay gap in the United Kingdom — requiring companies to publicly report how much they pay their employees. British officials hope that forcing firms to publicly expose their pay gaps will push them to remedy the problem.

The information was due by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday. By the time the deadline rolled around, more than 10,000 firms had reported their salary information, and roughly 78 percent of employers reported a gender pay gap at their companies. Andrew Bazeley, a policy manager at a women's rights advocacy organization called Fawcett Society, told The New York Times that requiring salary reporting is a "game-changer."

“It will force businesses to think about the gender pay gap in ways they might not have before," Bazeley said.

The British government required companies with 250 or more employees to publish annual reports of the salaries of their employees — including information about the bonuses employees received. The reports contained troubling insight for company executives and exposed gender pay gaps in a number of industries, ranging from fund management to sports governing bodies. Airlines also reported significant salary discrepancies, with Ryanair reporting a 71.8 percent pay gap.

The industries with the most blatant gender pay gaps appear to have a particular problem in common: a lack of women in senior roles. According to CNN, men tend to occupy senior positions, making it more difficult to talk about the pay gap. Hazel Conley, a professor at the University of the West of England, recently told CNN that the practice of disproportionately giving promotions to men is often used as a justification for the gender pay gap.

"Many organizations consider the gender pay gap to be acceptable if men and women do different jobs or that men hold more senior positions than women," Conley said. "This is worrying."

Reporting data from HSBC and Goldman Sachs appeared to confirm Conley's position. HSBC attributed its mean pay gap of 59 percent to the fact that most top jobs were occupied by men, while Goldman Sachs — which had a mean pay gap of 56 percent — reported that men and women working similar jobs were paid equally. Meanwhile, budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet reported relatively high gender pay gaps because their pilots — who tend to be well-paid — are mostly men, while their cabin crews are predominantly made up of women.

According to the BBC, the median pay gap among the 10,000 companies that reported their pay information was 9.7 percent. The reporting data also indicated that 14 percent of companies — including Tesla Motors — paid women more, while 8 percent — including the British Museum —reported that they had no pay gap between men and women. But now that so many companies have filed their employee salary information, the results prompt another question: What do companies plan to do about their gender pay gaps moving forward?

Airlines like EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic said they aim to close the gender pay gap by hiring more female pilots. Goldman Sachs took a similar approach, saying that it was working to get more women into senior positions. However, the Rugby Football Union — which reported a 23 percent gender pay gap in hourly wages between men and women — was less optimistic. The sports organization explained that due to a history of men pursuing careers in sports, women weren't going to get better-paying senior positions overnight.

Nonetheless, the required reporting of salary information has clearly pushed many British companies to address and combat their gender pay gaps. Rebecca Hilsenrath, the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, made it clear to The Independent that there will be consequences for companies that don't actively try to change their practices.

"This legislation is in place to bring about better gender equality in the workplace and any employer not complying needs to ask themselves tough questions, rethink their priorities, be prepared for serious reputational damage, and be ready to face a very unhappy workforce," Hilsenrath said.