The Scalpel's Blog


International Women’s Day: time for change in gender pay

Dean Royles, director of human resources and organisational development at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, analyses the latest gender pay gap report released by trusts in Yorkshire.

Today, 8 March, is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

It is also the day a number of NHS trusts in Yorkshire have chosen to publish their gender pay gaps. They show a range of pay gaps between 7% and 33%. This will be broadly in line with the rest of the NHS and varies depending on the type of trust reporting.

It’s not appropriate to talk down gender pay gaps. They exist in the vast majority of organisations and we must confront them. The benefits of publishing pay gaps is to create a debate on the reasons for gaps and to highlight what organisations can do to reduce them. To some extent this debate has started, but what has been missing is an important focus on the responsibility we have as a society to emphasise the inherent structural issues that exist. A society that views roles that are predominantly taken up by women in areas such as a caring and childcare as less valuable than male-dominated roles. Without addressing these societal challenges, progress on narrowing the gender pay gap will be slower than any of us want.

The NHS can rightly boast of significant progress when it comes to gender equality in the workplace:

  • 41% of chief executives are women;
  • 46% of very senior managers are women;
  • 45% of the medical workforce are women, with 35% of consultants being women (with 53% of doctors in training now women, the gap will continue to close);
  • 52% of GPs are women.

But there are still outliers: whilst 75% of HR directors are women, this is only 25% for finance directors and 25% for medical directors. 

Even so, these statistics for women in senior leadership positions far outstrip any progress made in FTSE100 companies.

The NHS has an equal pay system where pay for work of equal value is recognised; for example, a male nurse and female nurse entering nursing with some qualifications and experience are paid the same pay scale.

However, it is still possible, indeed probable, that organisations can have absolute pay equality and still have a significant gender pay gap.

The gender pay gap is calculated as the average pay of all the men in an organisation compared to the average pay of all the women. With approximately 80% of the NHS workforce being women and because there is a more equal gender split of higher-paid staff such as doctors, the average earnings for women overall is significantly lower, despite the fact that a man and a woman doing the same job are on the same pay grade.

To close the gender pay gap, organisations can of course be more responsive to flexible working, recognising the challenges of pursuing a career when working part-time and creating a culture that more effectively role models women in senior positions. But to narrow and close the gap will require significant societal changes, for example viewing caring roles (some of the most important roles in our communities) as predominantly undertaken by women. With approximately 60% of women in the highest quartile of earnings, the gender pay gap in the NHS is as much a feature of low pay as it is about inequality in high pay.

It is right that transparency on gender pay accelerates action in large employers, but we miss a generational opportunity if, on International Women’s Day, we don’t highlight the attitudes and beliefs that our society needs to change if we are to see genuine gender pay parity and highlight the importance of addressing low pay.


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