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Three more things

September 9, 2015

Three more thoughts, at a little more leisure, after Sunday night’s call to arms on the government’s consultation on the gender wage gap (see previous entry).

Firstly, how is it that gov.uk still doesn’t produce the list of open consultations in a usable format?  Seriously, look at the list here which shows you all consultations which are currently open.  At the time of writing there are 119 and, if you scroll down the list, you’ll see that they are in fact in date order.  But they are in order of the date on which they were published.  To find out when any of the consultations close, you have to click on the link to the specific consultation, open up the new page, and look for the closure date.  In the great scheme of things that might not seem like much, but it means that you can’t extract a list of open consultations, order them by date of closure, and then concentrate your efforts on the ones which are closing soon to make sure you don’t miss something.  You’d almost think they didn’t want consultations responses from individual citizens…

Secondly, on the format of the consultation, what on earth was the thing with the electronic form all about?  Why do you have to provide an email address, a snail mail address AND a contact phone number in order to respond?  Any one of three ought to be sufficient, surely?  And, while I can see it might be administratively convenient to have responses on an eform so that you can easily aggregate the responses, I can’t say that I came away from it with any sense of having contributed to a serious debate on the issues.

Third and finally, what were the issues?  In retrospect, this was a consultation on whether and how the commitment to require employers of more than 250 staff to publish their gender pay gap details was to be fulfilled.  The gender pay gap in this context is the difference between the average hourly pay of male and female employees.  So you can see that a firm with a largely female workforce in something like a caring profession, perhaps with a largely male boardroom and management cadre, might have a substantial pay gap explained by the makeup of the workforce.  You can also see how companies might be temped to game the figures by adding a few highly paid female board members to their roster, and I should mention here that I’m open to non-exec positions…  Ahem.

However the condoc tells us that the National Statistics Office uses the median hourly rate (excluding overtime and bonuses) to calculate the gap.

Why exclude overtime and bonuses?  There have been a number of high profile court cases about female high flyers in the feral professions nevertheless being denied the seven figure bonuses paid to comparable males.  Let’s add that in, surely?  And excluding overtime surely again offers chances to game the system by paying men for overtime not available to women?

The main point, though, is whether it’s more useful to have the pay gap measured by use of the average or the median rate.  Say you had 100 female employees earning £10 an hour and ten male managers on the kind of salary that averages out as £60 an hour, with three male and one female board members on an hourly equivalent of £200.  The average hourly rate for women would be ((100 x 10) + 200) / 101 = 11.88.  Most women earn £10 an hour, but the one very highly paid woman raises the average slightly.  The men average ((10×60)+(2×200))/12 = £83.  In this very crude example there are fewer men in higher paid positions and a lot of women in lower paid occupations – the wage gap is 83-11.88 = £71.12

If you use the median hourly rate, you find the one in the middle.  You rank the women in order of hourly salary and pick the middle one:

200

10

10

10…

(I’m not going to list that 100 times but you get the idea.  The middle woman, the 51st on the list, still gets £10 an hour, so that’s the median hourly rate.)

The men:

200

200

60

60

60… etc etc

Again, the middle number (the seventh man) gets £60.  The wage gap is £60-10=£50.

These two figures tell you different things.  (As well as the median and the mean, you might also want the mode, the most frequently occurring number, but in this artificial example it gives the same figure as the median)

You could, for example, envisage tweaking the figures.  If the company took on some men in its general workforce and appointed some female managers it could fairly easily arrive at a median wage gap of zero.  Appoint another female board member and you might wind up with an average wage gap of zero.  And perhaps those are the kinds of actions we might want to encourage businesses to take; I don’t know.

My point is, though, that this is what the consultation ought to have been about.  What IS the real gap between men’s and women’s pay, how best can we capture and promulgate it, in order to nudge companies to do something about it?

What a missed opportunity.

One comment

  1. […] You can read more about this in The Independent, and there is a handy guide to negotiating your pay rise in The Guardian and on taking the legal route in The Telegraph.  And don’t forget I’ve banged on about it before here and here and here. […]



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