Addressing the gender pay gap: employer methods

This report presents the findings of 14 interviews with employers in the private and public sector.

This document is part of a collection

Executive Summary


The gender pay gap has been closing in Scotland. However, men continue to receive higher pay than women, both on average and at the median. When full time workers are compared, the median gender pay gap is 5.7% and when all working men are compared with all working women, this rises to 15%. Since 2016, UK companies with over 250 employees have been legally required publish details of their gender pay gap. In addition, the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) requires public sector and non-departmental public bodies with at least 20 staff to publish their gender pay gap.

The Present Research

This report analyses the findings of 14 qualitative interviews with a range of public and private employers operating in Scotland. The research questions concerned the impact of reporting requirements, the strategies employers had or were developing to engage with the gender pay gap and the challenges and benefits associated with their efforts. Given the voluntary nature of participation and the relatively small sample, these findings should not be considered representative of employers in general. However, the data presented here provides a range of detailed insights into the experiences and challenges associated with efforts to close the pay gap, while demonstrating a range of methods have been developed in order to do this. As a result, it may help to encourage further action across the economy.

Reporting Requirements

The sample largely perceived pay gap reporting requirements as valuable in that they raised the profile and salience of gender equality, motivated the development of pay gap related policies, promoted internal dialogue and transparency around pay differentials and increased the capacity of employers to monitor and evaluate gender balance within their organisations. However, respondents also identified several shortcomings which were primarily technical in nature. The data also hinted that, as was reported in one case, pay gap reporting could also potentially normalise gender pay gaps as a result of peer comparison.


Amongst the organisations interviewed in this research, there were a wide range of strategies concerned with promoting gender equality. Several companies had taken action to ensure that their recruitment mechanisms did not directly or indirectly discriminate against women. These methods included training recruiters in unconscious bias, ensuring salary information was openly advertised, reassessing job descriptions and advertisements and developing gender sensitive assessment methods.

In addition to recruitment, many employers employed strategies which could potentially contribute to reducing the gender pay gap:

  • Flexible Working: Several employers had developed policies to make working hours more accommodating and flexible, so that employment could be balanced with caring responsibilities and other non-work commitments.
  • Talent Development: In some cases, efforts were made to ensure the gender balance of talent pipelines and development programmes, as well as specifically encouraging the development of female managers.
  • Maternity Strategies: Several businesses sought to develop or maintain effective maternity policies which sought to reduce the impact of career breaks on career development. These included pro-active efforts to engage with and respond to maternity leave amongst employees, provide appropriate contact over the period of leave and ensure a smooth transition back to work for returners. In some cases, paternity policies had also been developed with a view towards the increased sharing of parental responsibilities amongst heterosexual couples.
  • Company Cultures: In several cases, dedicated efforts had been made to ensure that working cultures were supportive and inclusive, both in relation to gender and other forms of diversity.

Challenges and Benefits of Engaging with the Gender Pay Gap

Benefits: Gender equality was regarded as have several benefits, including greater diversity of thought and improved performance. Flexible and remote working practices were also seen to potentially increase the pool of candidates from which employers could choose. Efforts to close the gender pay gap provided opportunities to develop female talent and realise human capital to a greater extent than might have otherwise been the case. A focus on the gender pay gap also potentially encourage further engagement with other forms of diversity and inclusion such as, for example, race and disability.

Challenges: Several businesses viewed closing the gap as something that may take time and that progress would not necessarily be visible year on year. The gender pay gap was also understood to reflect a broader social context with uneven divisions of caring responsibilities and societal expectations. Occupational segregation, i.e. the differential representation of men and women in different sectors and occupational roles, was also viewed as a barrier to equality which potentially exceeded the capacities of any single employer to address individually, although there were several examples of pro-active attempts to engage with it.



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