UK: Gender In The Workplace – Equal Pay And Equal Representation For Women

Last Updated: 14 January 2016
Article by Michael Bronstein and Anjali Raval

According to a forecast by the World Economic Forum, if the current rate of change continues, the economic gap between men and women globally will not close before 2133. However, recent statistics published by the BBC show that the UK is the 18th most gender-equal country in the world. Is gender therefore still a live issue in the workplace in the UK? Or should the Government be focussing its policy initiatives on other protected characteristics?

The gender pay gap

The Government's agenda for 2016 suggests that gender inequality is still very much in focus, with section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 due to come into force in the course of next year. This will make it mandatory for all employers with at least 250 employees to publish information about their gender pay gap.

Paying men and women different amounts for equal or similar work has been illegal for over 40 years now, first under the Equal Pay Act 1970 and now under the Equality Act 2010. However, it is intended that the new measure will lead to increased transparency and a new commercial interest and incentivisation in achieving gender equality.

The Government launched a consultation this year, titled "Closing the Gender Pay Gap", which closed on 6 September 2015. We are currently awaiting the Government's response to the consultation and, in particular, precise details of what pay data employers will be required to publish. However, the Prime Minister has already announced that bonus payments will be included. This will be of particular relevance to any employer with a significant variable element to their remuneration packages, notably employers within the financial services sector.

Some employers have expressed concerns that this may require them to disclose sensitive financial data (where bonuses have an element related to the performance of a company or a particular division) and to justify the more subjective metrics upon which calculation of their bonuses is based. However, this seems in line with the general trend towards making bonuses more transparent.

Whilst it is not anticipated that there will be any particular penalties for companies and organisations failing to bridge the gender pay gap, the reputational damage and negative publicity that large employers could face is considerable. There are also likely to be knock-on effects on employee attraction, engagement and retention. Employers would need to be able to justify any differentials in pay in a very public forum.

Equal pay claims

Employers who are exposed as having a large gender pay gap are also at risk of potentially significant employee claims for equal pay, which could be backdated as far as six years. Equal pay claims are currently highly topical, with the hearing of the test cases against Asda hotly awaited.

Equal pay claims have traditionally been found in the public sector space and the private sector has, for the most part, not paid too much attention. However, where a valid equal pay claim is made out, the cost to the employer can be substantial.

In October 2012, in what was described as a "landmark case" at the time, the Supreme Court judges held that more than 170 former Birmingham City Council employees could launch pay equality compensation claims in the High Court, on the basis that they had not been eligible to receive bonuses, which male comparators in equal work had been eligible to receive. This essentially extended the time limit for bringing a claim to six years (as opposed to the six-month limit in the Employment Tribunal). The judgment resulted in around 16,000 claims against the Council, and it was estimated that the total cost to the Council was likely to reach about £1.2 billion. The Council ultimately agreed to settle the claims, but reports suggest that a number of the settlements still remain unpaid to date.

Further, as Asda are now finding, equal pay is not just a public sector issue and private sector employers should not be complacent about the gender pay gap. Whilst the Equality Act 2010 has previously been regarded as relatively "toothless" when it comes to addressing the equal pay gap, increased public awareness, a Government focus on the issue and media interest have brought the matter to the forefront.

In October 2014, an equal pay test case was brought on behalf of 400 workers against Asda. The key point in this case is the issue of job evaluation. Any female employee is entitled to enjoy contractual terms that are as favourable as those of a male comparator, if they are employed in jobs of equal work. There are three categories of equal work: "like work", "work rated as equivalent" and 'work of equal value'. The relevant category in the Asda case is "work of equal value". The case will determine if the supermarket's in-store staff jobs, which are mainly held by female workers, are of equal value to higher-paid jobs in the company's male-dominated distribution centres. If the Court finds that the roles do in fact constitute equal work, workers could be entitled to six years' back pay for the difference in earnings, potentially costing Asda millions, if not billions, of pounds.

The hearing is expected to go ahead in the first half of 2016 and the judgment could have wide-ranging implications for other employers in the retail space. Whilst only a small number of Sainsbury's workers have brought equal pay claims to date, it already looks like a number of workers may be waiting in ready anticipation to bring a claim, depending on the outcome of the Asda case.

The case highlights the importance of job evaluation. For employers, the most comprehensive way of addressing pay inequalities is through a job evaluation study or job evaluation scheme (JES). A JES is an analytical procedure for grouping jobs into salary bands on a gender-blind basis.

Given the above, employers may wish the review their current pay systems. However, this comes with a word of warning. There is a risk that once any inequalities in the current system have been identified, employees will find it easier to bring equal pay claims for back pay. Employers may also find that they need to increase the salary for some lower paid employees, increasing staff costs to the business.

Female representation: women on boards

Gender issues are not limited to pay; they also relate to representation – the so-called "glass ceiling". Representation of women in senior positions in government, partnership level roles and on the boards of FTSE companies remains woefully low for such a progressive country. As it stands, women make up only 23 per cent of government ministers. In terms of the FTSE companies, there has certainly been progress since the Government commissioned a review by Lord Davies of Abersoch in 2011, but there is still a long way to go.

As at 1 October 2015, there were no male-only boards in the FTSE 100 and women held 26.1 per cent of board positions in those companies, up from 12.5 per cent in February 2011. Within the FTSE 250, women held 19.6 per cent of board positions, but there remain 15 male-only boards. Remember – women make up nearly 50 per cent of the UK workforce.

On 29 October 2015, Lord Davies published a second report on improving the gender balance on British boards, making a number of new recommendations to maintain and encourage greater momentum going forward. The report, amongst other things, recommends that the voluntary, business-led approach to improving female board representation be continued for another five years. Notably, however, the report does not consider that legislative quotas are warranted.

Whilst most employers will be comforted by this news, there still remains much lively debate around the need for quotas and some form of "positive discrimination". Indeed, in his report, Lord Davies notes that quotas have or are being introduced in a number of other European countries, who are accordingly likely to meet their targets. There is a risk that, by sticking to its voluntary approach, the UK may fall behind on the gender equality scale, both in Europe and internationally.

Initiatives like The 30% Club have already demonstrated the benefits to businesses of taking the lead in the gender equality space. The favourable publicity generated, and the progressive company image that reflects positive action taken, are invaluable. It is becoming increasingly clear, particularly within the professional services sector, that clients are genuinely looking for a more diverse service provider, and gender equality is a key factor. Accordingly, the commercial benefits of being proactive are commercially measurable. Indeed, it is undoubtedly preferable to lead voluntarily rather than being coerced into change, and employers need to be ready and prepared for ever closer scrutiny.

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
28 Sep 2017, Seminar, London, UK

On 26 July the FCA published its long-expected consultation paper on the extension of the SMCR to all FCA-authorised firms. The so-called "core regime" introduces the key concepts of regulator-approved senior managers, firm-approved certification staff and conduct rules applicable to virtually all staff.

3 Oct 2017, Conference, Zurich, Switzerland

As the founding Partner of the Europe-Iran Forum, Dentons Europe will once again support this year’s event. This compelling event which explores all Iran-related topics will take place in Zürich on 3rd and 4th October.

4 Oct 2017, Workshop, London, UK

We are hosting an interactive workshop where we will run a mock High Court trial of an employee competition case – where the members of the audience are the judges. The session, aimed at in-house counsel and HR professionals, will offer an insight as to how disputes involving employees moving to a competitor play out in practice.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.