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Time is now up for large employers to publish their gender pay gap data. Disappointingly, a large number of trusts have not fully engaged with this initiative.
A number of public sector organisations, including NHS trusts, did not meet the 30 March reporting deadline. Of those that did, many organisations, including the Department of Health, struggled to produce accurate data. Yet this is a legal requirement for organisations employing more than 250 staff under regulations introduced last March and cannot simply be ignored or dismissed.
Without knowing the gender pay gap – defined as the difference between the average hourly earnings of men and women - how can we begin to address potential barriers? Launching the new regulations in 2017, the then minister for equalities Justine Greening said: ‘By shining a light on where there are gaps, [employers] can take action and make sure that we are harnessing the talents and skills of men and women.’
My own trust, Lewisham and Greenwich, has a 12 per cent pay gap, which is actually quite good if you consider that six trusts have median gender pay gaps in excess of the national average (18 per cent) with the highest reported gap at over 40 per cent. But we are one of the few with a female medical director and senior medical managers, so why does it exist at all?
Only a minority of NHS organisations appear to have made a real effort to understand the reasons for their gender pay gap and to have published clear action plans detailing what they plan to do to reduce it. Despite being given over a year to prepare their data and reports, it appears to still be low priority for many with statements committing to ‘carry out further investigations into data’.
At the BMA, which has a gender pay gap of 13.6 per cent - one of the lowest amongst trade unions - we have worked hard to engage doctors and NHS employers in this initiative. We know that good staff engagement equates to safer patient care. In September, as deputy chair of the BMA consultants committee, I wrote to all our hard-working LNCs (local negotiating committees) and asked them to request information from their trusts about the gender pay gap and a breakdown of the pay gap for doctors. We also published a clear guide to explain gender pay gap reporting.
Only two trusts have provided us with specific pay data for doctors, to date. But at least this has shown that it can be done.
One of the issues raised by some gender pay gap reports we’ve seen from NHS employers is clinical excellence awards. We know from national data that women are underrepresented in CEAs and the reasons for this are complex. This is one of the areas we will be addressing after the new transitional local CEA scheme to correct the gender imbalance for applicants to the new award scheme in 2021.
However, CEAs are not the only factor behind the sizeable gender pay gap in medicine. We know that lack of access to quality, affordable and accessible childcare, the effects of working less than full time and lack of support for women to progress in their careers, including into senior posts are also major contributors. Meetings held when creches are closed, imposter syndrome and dislike of conflict are potential reasons women do not pursue pay advancement opportunities. We have an older predominantly male workforce in senior positions and a younger female workforce in junior positions.
I do understand that trusts are operating in a highly pressurised, target-driven environment. Even more reason to take this seriously – as the Equality and Human Rights Commission has emphasised, non-compliance could result in a court order and unlimited fines. Reducing the gender pay gap is not an ‘optional extra’. It is integral to organisations’ ability to attract a talented workforce and an important hallmark of their commitment to equality and diversity, which has repeatedly been shown to characterise high performing organisations, delivering better patient outcomes.
The poor response from trusts on the gender pay gap amongst doctors clearly shows why an independent review of the gender pay gap is urgently needed.
After long delays we understand that this review is due to be launched very shortly and I am delighted to be part of it. Its recommendations are expected to lead to policy changes and feed into contract negotiations and I shall do my utmost to represent out members concerns.
It really is about time that some teeth were put into the gums of those trying to address inequalities of opportunity in the medical profession. This independent review offers a great opportunity to understand in detail what is causing the pay gap in medicine and to do something about it. Let’s hope it isn’t timetabled for evenings during school holidays.
Helen Fidler is deputy chair of the BMA consultants committee
BMA guidance on the gender pay gap: https://www.bma.org.uk/advice/employment/pay/gender-pay-gap-reporting
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