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If you work for a large UK company, it's likely your employer is now legally obliged to publish a 'gender pay gap' report each year. SARAH ROBINSON finds out what this means, how it works and what's happening in the UK shipping industry…
From 4 April 2018, all UK companies with 250 or more employees will be required by law to carry out a 'gender pay gap' review, publishing the results on their own website and on the government website www.gov.uk.
It's a measure that stems from the Equality Act 2010 but has only recently come into force, and it's sparking a great deal of debate – as well as a degree of misunderstanding.
In this article, we'll be getting to grips with UK gender pay gap reporting and how it applies to the shipping industry. And to help with our investigation, we've sought the opinions of two experts: Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, the UK's leading gender equality campaigning charity; and David Appleton, Nautilus professional & technical officer and former seafarer.
What is the gender pay gap?
Put succinctly by Sam Smethers, it is: 'A measure of the difference in average hourly pay between men and women.'
It's usually calculated for the staff in a particular company or organisation, but can be applied across a group of related organisations, a sector, or a whole country. Indeed, as the April 2018 gender pay gap reports come in, the UK government is committed to looking at the gender pay gap at a national level and taking steps to close the average gap. 'There's cross party support for this in parliament,' notes Sam, 'with MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP all backing the legislation that introduced gender pay gap reporting.'
What do you have to report, and how do you calculate it?
The following four types of figures have to be reported for each participating company:
- gender pay gap (mean and median averages)
- gender bonus gap (mean and median averages)
- proportion of men and women receiving bonuses
- proportion of men and women in each quartile of the organisation's pay structure
To calculate the gender pay gap across the organisation, each employee's hourly pay rate must first be worked out, because obviously it would not be meaningful to carry out the review using monthly or annual salaries; this could give the impression that some people were unfairly paid differently when in fact some had simply worked more hours than others.
Companies are also strongly encouraged to provide a 'narrative' in their report. Although this is not mandatory, the ACAS guidance document Managing Gender Pay explains that it is important because 'reporting a gender pay gap does not necessarily mean a company has acted inappropriately or discriminatorily, but this will need explaining. A narrative helps anyone reading the statement to understand the organisation's view of why a gender pay gap is present and what the organisation intends to do to close it.'
Reporting a gender pay gap does not necessarily mean a company has acted inappropriately or discriminatorily, but this will need explaining ACAS guidance document - Managing Gender Pay Reporting
What is gender pay gap reporting likely to reveal about maritime employers?
This is a tricky one, says David Appleton. 'If we try to use gender pay gap reporting to assess employment trends onboard one company's ships, the sheer low numbers of women in seafaring threaten to make any statistics meaningless – you can't have a trend based on one person in a crew.'
We might get something more useful if we aggregated the data across all the ships in a sector, he notes: 'And in this case I would expect to see quite a large gender pay gap, because we know from our membership at Nautilus that there are more women in the lower ranks than at senior level.'
Any UK maritime company taking part in the reporting exercise this month is likely to be basing its calculation on a combination of seagoing and shore-based staff, and if it uncovers a gender pay gap, it may need to account for this in a different way for each group, he continues.
For sea staff, David says: 'Companies should look at whether they are encouraging their female seafarers to rise through the ranks and investigate why women may be going ashore before reaching a senior level onboard ship. But the main problem is getting more women to choose a career at sea in the first place, as female seafarers have been stuck at around 2% of the onboard workforce for a long time.'
In contrast, shore-based maritime roles see plenty of women being employed, and here the gender pay gap is likely to be attributable to factors that tend to hold women back in any workplace – from bosses failing to include women when they 'headhunt' for senior positions to the company undervaluing roles seen as 'women's work'.
However, there is one maritime-specific conclusion that the Maritime HR Association has drawn from its own gender pay gap report on shore-based staff. It seems that many senior shore-based positions in the industry simply can't be filled by women because the candidate is required first to be a shipmaster or chief engineer. With so few women going to sea and even fewer staying long enough to rise to the top level, the numbers coming ashore with those credentials are tiny.
So why should I care about the gender pay gap?
'Why wouldn't you care?' responds Sam Smethers. 'I could cite statistics that show that gender-balanced workplaces are more productive, and that companies with more women on the executive board are more successful. But what it boils down to is that most people want to work in a company that treats all its employees fairly, and gender pay gap reporting can be the first step towards achieving that.'
David Appleton agrees. 'I could point out how much maritime employers need to recruit more female cadets to address the overall shortage of qualified ship's officers. But I think the main benefit of gender pay gap reporting is as a means of shaking our industry out of the "we've always done things this way" mentality,' he says.
'Taking the time to think about why women aren't progressing as well as men can lead to a more modern way of working that benefits everybody. Are women leaving the sea before reaching the senior ranks because the job is not family-friendly? Chances are that young men are quitting for the same reason. Are young women put off by a heavily male-dominated workplace? Young men going to sea can find this strange too. They're used to working and socialising in mixed groups, and with shore leave being in short supply these days, it really matters for retention of all staff that there's a good atmosphere onboard and a more "normal" working environment.'