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Successfully managing your organisation’s gender pay gap reporting: the role of communication and engagement

Gender pay gap reporting is not just about producing the right data, in the right way and at the right time. Just as important is the story behind the gap and how you communicate this, both externally and internally.

Large employers are required to publish their pay gap data on their website in an accessible manner on an annual basis. There is no legal obligation to publish a narrative, and the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 (SI 2017/172) do not set out a narrative formula. However, the government strongly encourages employers to provide a voluntary textual narrative that provides context, tells your employees what gender pay gap reporting is, explains any pay gaps, and sets out what actions have and will be taken to address significant gaps (see Practice note, Gender pay gap reporting obligations for an overview of the requirements and links to relevant materials).

The Regulations do not contain any enforcement provisions or sanctions for non-compliance. However, employers will be alive to the possibility that publication of their report may draw adverse media and employee comment (witness the uproar that followed the publication of the BBC’s annual report, which contained details of staff salaries), and cause staff morale to deteriorate. They should be considering now how best to manage communication of their own data and how they will manage any negative consequences of its publication.

Preparing for reporting: planning your communications

The CIPD recommends that you prepare for writing and publishing your report by creating a communications plan outlining:

  • The report’s aims.
  • The report’s key messages.
  • Key audiences.
  • Communication channels.

The CIPD has published fuller guidance on Gender Pay Gap Reporting on its website, section 14 of which sets out its recommendations under each of these headings in more detail, along with an example of a communications plan and of a narrative report.

Just as with any public communication, publication of your organisation’s gender pay gap report comes with risks. Risks that could apply to any organisation include:

  • Equal pay claims.
  • The possibility of deterring promising prospective employees from applying to your organisation.
  • Employees leaving the organisation.
  • Reputational damage.

Preparing an internal communications plan can go a long way towards identifying these risks so that you can seek to avert them.

Careful management of your external communications on and after publication can likewise help mitigate your risks. Practical steps to take include ensuring that:

  • Your organisation’s report and the figures within it are robust.
  • You give due consideration to selecting the most appropriate spokesperson, and that they are fully conversant with the report and its background.
  • Your spokesperson is adequately prepared for all contact with the media.
  • All public statements your organisation makes on the subject of any gender pay gap revealed are consistent with each other.

Managing workforce morale: before and after publication

An adverse reaction among sections of your workforce and longer term low morale are likely to be two of the main risks you identify.

Whether or not you have drawn up a communications plan in advance of beginning to prepare your report, before publishing it you should take the time to anticipate what your employees’ concerns might be. Having identified such concerns, you can then take steps to manage them.

An adverse employee reaction to publication of the figures is more likely if they take your employees by surprise, and if they do not understand how they have been calculated or what the organisation is doing to reduce any gap.

These risks can therefore be averted or mitigated by:

  • Giving employees advance notice of the report before it is published externally. Take the time to explain the figures, how they have been calculated and what the organisation is doing to address any apparent inequity. Doing so at an employee forum or through the employee intranet will enable you to answer questions, so that employees feel familiar with the contents of the public report and engaged with the process.
  • Ensuring that any presentations made to explain the figures, together with responses to any questions posed by employees, are made available on an employee intranet, so that employees may refer to them in future.
  • Posting regular updates on an employee intranet of actions the organisation is taking to tackle any gender pay gaps identified and – later – of progress made.
  • Appointing a dedicated contact within the organisation who will handle further questions: this may be the spokesperson nominated initially, or it may be the responsibility of another manager charged with monitoring gender pay gap issues.

You may find it helpful to engage in a consultation process with members of relevant trade unions or staff committees to find out how best to engage with employees on this issue in advance of publishing your report. For instance, how much background detail will they require?

From a people management perspective, consider whether the organisation’s usual complaints/grievance procedure will be appropriate for use in handling concerns about gender pay gap figures raised after the report’s publication. If a different approach is determined to be more appropriate, record it in a separate policy and ensure that all relevant managers are aware of it.

How and when you communicate your gender pay figures – and with whom – is just as important as calculating them in the first place. Employers should be thinking now about creating their own communications plan that deals with these issues – and how they will mitigate the risk of low employee morale by communicating and engaging fully with employees before and after publication.

CIPD Charles Cotton

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