Some eight years after the law was tabled to compel companies across Britain to reveal the extent of the difference between male and female wages, the data showed that women were being paid a median hourly rate that, on average, was 9.8% less than that given their male colleagues.
By Wednesday evening 2,920 companies and public-sector organisations of a total of 9,788 which had filed had reported a pay gap that was above the national median of 18.4%.
The government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission said they would not comment on the number of companies and public-sector bodies that were required to report their figures.
Earlier figures from public-sector organisations, which had to report their gender pay gaps by 30 March, suggested nine in 10 paid men more than women, with an overall gender pay gap of 14%.
More than 1,000 companies reported their figures in the 24 hours before the deadline – more than the total number of companies that had reported in the first 326 days of the scheme. Companies had to file data based on a “snapshot” of their payroll taken on 5 April 2017, and could file the information at any point after that. Companies will now have to repeat the exercise on a yearly basis.
The figures are imperfect. The key measure of the median hourly pay gap across an entire business does not address the gap in similar job roles; the quality of the data is also patchy, and, due to exemptions, high-level executives, including partners and non-employed, and low-paid workers are not included in the data.
But the data-gathering exercise – unmatched anywhere else in the world to date – reveals structural inequality of opportunity and will force employers to look at the barriers facing women’s progression in the workplace, according to Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society. “It’s a game changer. It forces employers to look at themselves and understand their organisations and it prompts employees to ask some hard questions,” she said.
Smethers said the interest generated by the reporting requirement was helping women speak out about inequality of opportunity in their workplaces. “Finally women are realising that they have a right to talk about pay and they cannot be silenced. By finding out what their colleagues earn, they are then in a position to challenge any pay inequality. It is much more common than people realise.”