International GPG scorecard

I’m something of a sucker for international comparisons. As it happens I’m also highly sceptical of many international ranking tables, which often court the publicity that comes from such ranking by overstretching the intrinsic validity of their measures. The Fawcett Society and Kings College’s Global Institute for Women’s Leadership have combined to produce Bridging the Gap an interesting set of case studies on gender pay gap reporting. The report centres round a score card which is used to rank the six participating countries. Happily it does so in a way which seems to me reasonable and helpful.

The countries are Australia, South Africa, Spain, France, Sweden and the UK. I’ll pause for you to decide which countries you think will come at the top and bottom.

Ok, pause over. Before unveiling the answers (clue: the winner begins with S) I’ll fill in the criteria used for scoring, which are themselves a good topic for discussion: accountability upwards and downwards; transparency; action plans, with follow-up; enforcement; employer size and sector; intersectionality; degree of ambition; and level of government support.

Joint wooden spooners: Australia and the UK. Both fell down particularly on having low levels of downward accountability, ie little or no involvement of employees and their representatives; and especially in having no requirement to follow up on action plans, even where these exist. Somewhat paradoxically both were judged to have reasonable levels of support from government. The UK’s cut off at 250 employees lets a huge number of employers completely off the hook – and a correspondingly large proportion of employees unreported.

The top ranked country is Spain. Picked it, did you? No, me neither. You’ll have to look at the report to see the full set of reasons, but it scored particularly strongly on mandated action and accountability. I guess – and it is literally a guess – that it’s got something to do with Spain having some strong female MPs. It was certainly interesting to read that

equality bodies, such as the Instituto de las Mujeres, have done a good job in terms of research, capacity building and awareness raising. There are also support initiatives at the level of the autonomous regions.

I was surprised, as perhaps you were, by Sweden not coming out top. But I noted in the Paula Principle the paradox that Sweden shows unusually high levels of occupational segregation (partly because the financial penalties of being a nurse rather than a banker are not as heavy as elsewhere). And the report observes:

The Swedish case shows how even in the most gender equal contexts, gender pay legislation may fail to have a serious impact if the mechanisms are not in place to ensure the legislation is properly monitored, and employers are held accountable. The major issue facing the Swedish case is the level of compliance with the legislation. This is, for the most part, an unknown.

Leaving aside the rankings, the report contains a range of interesting examples of good practice and of challenges. The recommendations stress that action plans with teeth are essential; and they need to go beyond the headline stories, and cover all levels. Commenting at the launch Ann Francke of the Chartered Management Institute argued strongly for the value of quartile reporting that takes into account the shape of the organisation’s overall profile and the trajectories of women’s careers.

We know that the pandemic has damaged women’s employment and careers in the short term. I continue to think that in the longer term it might undermine the dominance to typical male career patterns, and so allow better and fairer recognition of women’s competences. I of course would have like to see more emphasis on the way women outperform men in terms of qualifications and learning, and how this accentuates the case for closing the GPG, but this is a very constructive and informative report.

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