At 2pm on Maundy Thursday afternoon, just as everyone was slipping away for the Easter break, Shropshire Council issued a press release detailing how much men and women are paid by the council. I have taken a reality check on this. Its positive tone belies the reality that Shropshire Council is bumping along the bottom on closing the gender pay gap. Only 12 councils in England pay women less than Shropshire Council.
Maundy Thursday was a good time to bury bad news and there was certainly bad news to bury. What the council was anxious to slip out before the Easter break was that it is one of the worst performers on equal pay in the England. Only 12 of more than 300 councils in England have a larger gender pay gap than Shropshire Council.
Paying women one fifth less is not good enough for the second decade of the twenty-first century.
The council press release pleads that it pays men and women equally. It says the problem is that there are more women in lower paid jobs.
The council has missed the point. Of course, women in the same pay grade are paid the same as men. The real problem is that many women can’t access higher grade jobs because they find progress blocked. Too often they don’t get considered for better paid roles. And because they don’t get the same chances as men, they lose the aspiration to apply for the higher paid jobs. It is the age old vicious circle.
I have spent a couple of days taking a reality check on Shropshire Council’s excuses. The government set a deadline of 30 March for submission of gender pay data. By that date, 317 councils in England had sent information to Whitehall. That data reveals that Shropshire Council has the 13th highest pay gap in the hourly rate paid to men and women.
The council says that it employs a lot of caterers and cleaners who are low paid women. It doesn’t say why these employees are predominately women.
The council tells us that a lot of its staff are part-time, again predominately low paid women. It says that if only full time staff are considered the gender pay gap is just 9%. That statement is an admission that if you don’t work full time, you’ll are unlikely to get paid as well as men in Shropshire Council. It’s a fossilised and shocking attitude to employment.
The council pleads that it employs many women over 40 and many have taken time away from work for childcare. Hence they are paid less. That sort of attitude was left behind by most public sector organisations decades ago. Few us now accept that having and looking after children should be a barrier to career advancement. Most of us believe that you shouldn’t have to be an Alpha Male working long hours seven days a week to get to the top.
The council’s disgraceful press release is nothing other than a list of excuses to justify a truly abominable performance on equality by the council.
Nearly six in ten councils in England pay male and female employees within one tenth of equal pay. But in Shropshire Council, the nearly 2,900 female employees get paid on average one-fifth less than men. That cannot continue.
In justifying its utterly dire position on gender, the council is trying to plead that it has a unique staff profile. I doubt it. Different councils have different responsibilities but the 56 unitary councils in England have pretty much the same job to do. All but one of the other unitary councils have a smaller gender pay gap than Shropshire.
It’s not down to geography either. Shropshire Council has a bigger gender pay gap than all the surrounding counties. It has the biggest gender pay gap of all the councils in the West Midlands.
In its press release, the council says the gender pay gap would reduce if it included outsourced services such as waste and highways. But if companies collecting bins and repairing potholes can pay women better, why can’t the council do the same?
If other councils can manage to reduce the gender pay gap and 53 councils in England pay women more than men, why can’t Shropshire Council at least strive for equality in pay?
The council is an outlier when it comes to closing the gender pay gap, performing worse than almost all its peers. In its defence, the council says: “When considering the top 5% of our workforce for non schools employees 57% are female, 43% male.” It doesn’t explain what top 5% means, numbers or pay, or how many staff it involves. From the published data, it is possible to establish that 20% of female employees are in the top quarter of earners in the council. In contrast, twice the percentage of men are in the top quarter of earners (41%).
I think part of the reason for this failure to address the gender pay gap is the predominance of men in senior political positions on the council. Only 17 of the 74 councillors are women (23%). Only nine of the 49-strong ruling Conservative group are female (18%). Just two of the ten cabinet members are female. The leader and deputy leader are male.
I am profoundly disappointed by Shropshire Council’s limp response to this gender data. It seems to be saying “that’s just the way life is.” It is not proposing any significant action to tackle the issue. It doesn’t seem to regard gender inequality in jobs as a problem at all. All the council commits to is to “review these figures and continue to measure our progress.”
Shropshire Council can’t just shrug the gender pay off. No matter what the council says in the way of excuses, this level of gender pay gap is not justified in the second decade of the 21st century. This is not a minor issue. It affects nearly 3,000 employees of Shropshire Council.
The council should follow government and ACAS guidance and produce an action plan to tackle the gender pay gap. In future years, Shropshire Council must also publish a detailed breakdown of employment and pay at every level by service area. The council will never have the constructive environment that is needed to get a balance of women, men and pay in the council until we see the full picture of where people are employed and how much they are paid.
The government ordered review of pay by gender should have been an opportunity to reflect and commit to significant action to address the council’s problems. Instead, it has been used as an opportunity for a public relations spin by Shropshire Council slipped out just as people were leaving for the Easter break.
The council must acknowledge that it has a long way to go on equal pay. It must accept that it is not doing anywhere near as well as the majority of councils.
I fear it will be a long journey to get anywhere near gender equality in Shropshire Council given the out of date attitudes expressed in its press release. The council must immediately set up a root and branch review of why most women are relegated to second tier, lower paid jobs in the council.
. Shropshire Council is ranked 13th worst performer measures on mean pay and on median pay. The median is a better measure than the mean for summarising the pay most people recieve.
. Shropshire Council’s press release says: “Shropshire’s Gender Pay Gap is slightly higher than the national average.” Shropshire Council pays women 21% less than men. This the same as the council average of 21% for the 317 English councils that have returned data so far. In any event, averages are not a good measure in this context. Only 10 councils pay worse than the mean of 21%. More than 300 councils pay better than the mean. That’s why the median is usually used in an analysis like this. By definition, half of councils lie above the median and half below. The median gender pay gap for Shropshire Council is -26%. For all the councils in England that submitted data be the deadline, it is -15%. That’s a huge gap that is disguised by a statistical sleight of hand in Shropshire Council’s press release.
. 55% of councils in England are within -10% to +10% of the equal pay meridian. That includes Telford and Wrekin, our nearest neighbour, where the median pay is for women is 5% lower than men. That is just one fifth of the Shropshire Council gender pay gap.
. In Wokingham women receive -29% mean and -15% median pay compared to men.
. In its press release, Shropshire Council says: “The [gender] calculations do not include those employees in those services which have been outsourced, such as waste collections, highways maintenance and highways engineering, which are more male dominated. If they did, then the mean Gender Pay Gap would reduce.” It provides no data for this. By saying this, the council is also trying to distract attention from its own backyard and the fact that most other councils outsource these services. Veolia Shropshire, which collects waste and recycling, does pay women as much or more than men (equal median pay and +2.6% mean pay). But the highways contractors are pretty similar in paying women less than men: Ringway (highways): median -11.4%, mean -7.4%; Keir (which replaced Ringway on 1 April as highways contractor): median -11.9%, mean -11.7%; Mouchel (highways engineers); median -11.4%, mean -11.1%.
. This number excludes staff in schools.