The gender pay gap is firmly on the business agenda. As of April 6 2017, firms with over 250 employees must publish the average pay that their male and female workers receive. They have a year to comply. The new requirement will impact over 9,000 employers and cover 15 million employees: nearly half of the UK’s workforce.

It is more than 30 years since the Equality Act first came into play in 1970, which states it is illegal for a man to be paid more than a woman in the same job. Although strides have been made since then, it is clear more can be done when the gender pay gap stands at approximately 18.1%, rising to 54.9% between the highest paid men and women. They are disappointing statistics.

Will this new law improve gender parity?

Well, you would hope so. The good news is that women are better educated and qualified than ever before, female employment rates have been rising and the pay gap narrowing. Yet we find many women’s skills are still not being fully utilised, with women over 40 and in the most senior roles most affected. The gap is also due to women’s tendency to take up part-time working because they are also typically responsible for childcare, although we know this is gradually changing with the increase in single fathers and shared parental leave.

So what can be done to support the improvement in the gender pay gap once firms have published their figures?

Currently the government does not have a coherent strategy to address the issues and there is no legal requirement to actually close the gap. It is only hoped that by naming and shaming, firms will implement their own strategies.

We at Attune Jobs do not think gender pay reporting by itself will change these imbalances – a survey by NGA Human Resources, for instance, found that 29% of bosses do not believe the gender pay gap is even a business issue. We think a lot can be achieved if firms want to really address this issue, one of them being to advertise jobs at all levels as flexible or part-time – this will encourage more women to return to work after maternity, make it easier for women to have careers, and help senior women to hold onto their jobs, the average age in the UK for women to have their first baby is now 30 years old and many women delay having children until their late 30s as they go up the career ladder.

The Women and Equalities Committee 2015-16 supports this view. There is a wealth of evidence that shows old fashioned approaches to flexibility in the workplace and a lack of support for those re-entering the workforce are stopping employers making the most of women’s talent and experiences. This is adding to the gender pay gap. More flexible working rights would be helpful as well as providing opportunities for all to work flexibly or part-time.

Pay levels too then need to be addressed. More often than not, salaries start out at equal levels. But once women have children they end up falling behind financially, particularly if they return part-time and find themselves on salaries that are not being pro-rated as full time equivalent. Sadly, it is still true that many businesses seem to think that flexible working is a benefit in itself, which means they can get away with offering lower salaries or very few pay rises. Firms need to make sure people are being paid fairly and on merit – not disadvantaged because of a need to work flexibly.

Leading employers, like our clients Osborne Clarke, are recognising that workplaces need to change and flexible working for all lies at the heart of addressing the gender pay gap as well as winning the war for talent. Within this, there is no doubt that sharing gender pay data can be used as a powerful tool to demonstrate that a firm is open, fair and inclusive to all its employees. Such an approach takes businesses to the next level, enabling them to become employers of choice.

We believe HR and recruitment teams, as well as the firm’s leaders, have a key role to play in re-balancing this playing field.

We would advise employers to:

1.Advertise all jobs at all levels as flexible, part-time etc, unless there is a strong business case not to –only 9% of vacancies for decently paid jobs are advertised as flexible according to Timewise

2.Ensure part-time and flexible work opportunities are available at senior levels

3.Increase and support women to progress to higher paid jobs

4.Ensure part-time salaries are pro-rated based on the full time equivalent

5.Encourage women returners and support their return from e.g. maternity, through coaching, networking

6.Be open to all flexible working requests from men and women

7.Develop transparent pay structures and undertake equal pay reviews / audits – then act on them!

Written by Sarah Broad