Dont take off your coat, UK plc, this won’t take too long: “Um……be better. Thanks, think we’re done”

Well that didn’t go to plan. 

I now understand why there was such chaotic panic within various music companies last November to change album release dates at the last minute when Adele suddenly announced she was releasing “25”.

Just as my spleen was being well and truly vented on the subject of breast-feeding, the whole feminist world was distracted by the government announcing the regulations to reduce the gender pay gap. In the midst of all the sound bites, political point scoring, Twitter rage and feminist in-fighting, how did I stand a chance? My rant has just become the blog equivalent of “Second Toughest in the Infants” by Underworld. Critically acclaimed (well, one person liked it) but largely ignored by the general public.

So what did the government come up with? 

In short, companies with over 250 employees must announce their gender pay statistics, starting in 2018, and league tables of the results will be drawn up to show the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ employers.

I’ll be honest, I find this, and the majority of the subsequent debate by Internet and broadsheet commentators alike, all a bit dispiriting (and this isn’t sour grapes I promise). I have touched on this topic before and do think transparency has a role to play but it just feels like such a missed opportunity to me.

Please allow me to digress for a second. 

When I used to have a normal job, like most people, I had to endure the tedious biannual appraisal process. Agree objectives; assess one’s own performance against those objectives; spend an excruciating hour listening to your line manager ignoring your thoughts on how great you are and coming up with their own reasons as to why you should be graded “Meets Expectations”; and then agree objectives for the year ahead.

The whole process took forever, but, despite my cynical comments above is, I believe, a worthwhile exercise if done correctly.

One of my good friends used to joke though that it would all be a lot quicker, and more honest, if your manager just said “Be better” when setting objectives for the year ahead.

But everyone seems to accept that that isn’t the right approach as, generally, people don’t try to be shit at work. If an employee is not doing a good job, it could be due to any number of different reasons: a lack of skills, poor equipment, insufficient management, lack of morale, feeling undervalued, low pay or a hundred and one other things. It is the job of the manager to try to understand which factors are causing that poor performance and then put measures in place to change those underlying causes by way of training, a change of team, new tools, a different incentive scheme or whatever.  Accordingly, done well, the appraisal process can be hugely beneficial for the company.

So why am I wittering on about that?

Well, I feel that in the context of the gender pay debate, the government is taking the approach of the useless manager when dealing with a sub-standard employee and simply saying to companies “Be Better”.

Although there may be some sexist, law-breaking employers in the margins that consciously pay men and women different rates of pay for the same job, I don’t believe that there are many and especially not many that have more than 250 employees. 


It is the job of the government to understand the factors behind the pay gap and then to try to change the underlying causes. If those underlying factors aren’t changed, all the transparency in the world will only make a marginal difference and, in fact, could actually lead to the very odd result where employers discriminate in favour of women and pay them more than men in the same role to improve their position in the league table. A classic case of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

It’s odd though as the government doesn’t take this approach in other areas. 

Take the criminal justice system for example. When looking at how to reduce crime, the government doesn’t just say to criminals “Be better”, they look at all the factors behind crime and makes decisions accordingly.

There is a lot of government-funded analysis looking at, among other things:

  • The reasons for getting into crime in the first place, starting with education and the social services;
  • The deterrents – the number of police, police training, the sentencing guidelines etc;
  • Environmental factors such as  street-lighting, cameras in town centres; and
  • How to reduce reoffending whether by education in prison, post-custodial support or otherwise

The government looks at all this analysis, weighs up the costs and benefits and then introduces relevant policy.

Might not be perfect but seems like a sensible and logical approach.

I don’t know why don’t they do the same in the context of gender pay. Telling larger companies to sort it out and publish the results will have the same effect on the gender pay gap as telling the disillusioned youth of the poorest parts of this country to lay off the drug dealing and the petty burglary – namely sweet FA.

Let’s look at some of the factors (and some of the facts) instead.

On average, women get paid more than men until they reach the average age for having a child so let’s focus on those barriers for women’s career progression after childbirth, including the provision of subsidised childcare, paternity pay legislation , um…breast-feeding policy (for god’s sake, D, leave it will you), flexible work practices, as well as some of the other non-childbirth related factors including the process of pay negotiation in companies, for example.

At its very simplest, in my view, if we reached the point in this country where the primary care of the child was split 50/50 between the mother and the father in the year following the birth of the child, I’m pretty sure that the wage gap would narrow over time, so how about doing something drastic such as free childcare or subsidising corporate paternity pay so that it is 50% better than corporate maternity pay, providing a significant incentive fathers to lead the childcare duties…..or at least open your mind to different ways of solving this issue.

I could go on but my spleen hasn’t fully recovered from my last rant, so I’ll leave it there for now.

Just two words of advice, Cameron – BE BETTER!

Twenty Questions postscript: I’m actually a bit confused now, Mx36, other than knowing that I don’t want to play you at chess, so I’m going to have the resort to the traditional opening question in Guess Who: “In the workplace, would you be paid more or less than those of the opposite sex?”

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1 Response to Dont take off your coat, UK plc, this won’t take too long: “Um……be better. Thanks, think we’re done”

  1. Mx36 says:

    I am paid the same but in a different workplace I could be paid less. This is actually the most difficult question to respond to so far.


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