5. Communicating gender pay gap reporting rules and results

Employers, employees, and the general public are often unaware of gender pay gap reporting rules. This issue is often cited in reviews of national pay transparency programmes (OECD, 2021[1]). This lack of awareness likely hampers the effectiveness of pay reporting rules since employers may not fully understand their obligations to comply with the rules. Simultaneously, employees and their representatives may not have high expectations for employer engagement in reducing the gender wage gap.

Yet despite these concerns, governments rarely directly communicate pay reporting rules to employers. Instead, employers are expected to familiarise themselves with legal measures. There is also very little systematic measurement of employer awareness, making it challenging to assess the extent to which (poor) communication affects the effectiveness of pay reporting (see Section 5.1.2).

Accountability regarding pay gap results matters, too. Pay gap reporting rules may not have their intended effect of enabling transparency and follow-up action in support of pay equity if they lack clear guidance about who should have access to the results. Rules are more likely to have impact if they explicitly require employers to inform specific actors, including employees, their representatives, and governmental bodies, about the results of pay reporting. Ideally, employers should be accountable up and down (see Section 5.2). When multiple stakeholders are informed about pay reporting results, there should be a higher level of accountability (Cowper-Coles et al., 2021[2]).

Transparency and accountability go hand in hand (see Section 5.3): employers should understand their obligations, stakeholders should know what to expect from employers, and the communication of pay gap results should be clear and accessible to employees, their representatives, and perhaps even to the public.

For proactive businesses, a primary advantage of transparency towards employees is the potential to build trust. When employees are aware of the pay scale this may help them feel valued by their employers. This creates a positive work environment and likely promotes employee retention. On the flip side, there is also the potential for negative impacts on morale among employees who feel that their pay is inadequate compared to others (Cullen, 2023[3]).

Public media and academic scrutiny can also affectively motivate firms to address pay discrepancies. Public recognition matters both to existing employees and new talent – particularly women, who are more likely to choose and apply to companies with a reputation for fair pay (Duchini, Simion and Turrell, 2020[4]).

Employers are often expected to familiarise themselves with relevant pay transparency rules (see Table 5.1). Only a few countries, such as Australia, Canada, and France, directly email employers to provide them with online resources and remind them of their reporting obligations. Austria, Chile and Japan produce information leaflets and brochures on pay reporting rules and individual companies can.

In most countries reporting rules are simply communicated publicly through designated government and/or ministry websites. Such websites can be found in at least Austria, Belgium Canada, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.1 Countries with the lowest degree of outreach do not specifically communicate pay reporting requirements to relevant employers or present them online in layman’s terms, but rather use standard processes for communication of legislation or regulations, such as press releases, legal bulletins, or government gazettes.

In Austria, Belgium and Finland, workers’ and their representatives have helped to communicate pay reporting requirements to the employers. In Austria, workers’ representatives, together with the Federal Ministry for Education and Women, published a brochure in order to support companies in the reporting process. In Belgium, the employee representatives who sit on the participation bodies are trained on the competences of the body and the obligations of the employer.

It is challenging to estimate employers’ knowledge of reporting requirements. Some countries consider employers’ compliance with reporting rules as an indicator of their awareness. However, compliance encompasses various factors, including awareness of reporting rules, ability to report, and willingness to report.

Compliance is also imprecisely measured by governments that may not have full information on which companies should report, according to defined inclusion criteria like firm size.2

Despite acknowledging that employers are often unaware of gender pay gap reporting and auditing requirements (OECD, 2021[1]), most countries do not systematically survey or measure employers’ awareness of the rules. Responses to the 2022 OECD Gender Pay Transparency Questionnaire revealed considerable variation in government estimates of employer awareness, ranging from “not very aware” to “very aware”.3

For example, studies conducted on a small number of Swedish employer and employee organisations suggest incomplete awareness of reporting rules, despite Sweden having one of the longest-running pay reporting programmes in the OECD. Many Swedish employers were unaware of the changes in the Equal Opportunities Act, including equal pay audits, according to the Swedish Equality Ombudsman survey from 2017.4 The survey also highlighted differences in knowledge between small and large companies, with employers large enough to have a human resources department or HR function having greater knowledge of the legislation (Swedish National Audit Office, 2019[5]).

However, both Swedish employer and employee organisations faced challenges in assessing the extent of compliance with various aspects of the legislation. Most employer organisations indicated an inability to assess compliance, while employee organisations provided varied responses. This lack of comprehensive understanding impeded efforts to evaluate employers’ adherence to legal requirements (Swedish National Audit Office, 2019[5]).

A survey conducted by the Finnish Social and Health Ministry5 in 2020 identified several potential reasons for incomplete reporting in Finland. The study, based on a representative sample of Finnish employers, revealed that only 53% of employers had conducted an equal pay audit (this represents an increase from the last survey), a third (35%) had not conducted it, and 12% could not say whether or not they had done it. Information from Finland highlights discrepancies between private and public sector employers: 86% of public sector employers, compared to just 50% private sector employers, report having conducted an equal pay audit (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Finland, 2020[6]).

Interestingly, the gender composition of a firm correlates with compliance. Under half (48%) of organisations with a male majority had fulfilled their equal pay auditing requirements, while nearly six in ten (59%) organisations with a female majority had conducted an audit in Finland. Many private sector employers (61%) indicated that pay analysis was not necessary, but this was less common in organisations with female majority (51%) than in those with a male majority (65%). Employers also pointed to the frequency and quality of wage surveys as a barrier to full compliance. Importantly, only a small minority (4%) of private sector employers reported lack of information as a barrier (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Finland, 2020[6]).

In Iceland and Switzerland estimates are moderate and suggest that employers are aware of reporting rules. Initial indications in Switzerland are that the law is being well implemented by employers, although reliable statements on this will only be possible with the evaluation in 2025. In Iceland, based on regular surveys on employers’ attitude and awareness of the Equal Pay Standard, it is suggested that they are becoming more and more aware.

Government estimates in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom portray a positive and optimistic outlook regarding employer awareness. In Canada, the Employment Equity Program is regularly evaluated, and a survey conducted as part of the 2019 evaluation found that 96% of employers had a moderate to very high level of understanding of their employment equity obligations, including reporting rules, with 73% of employers claiming a high to very high level of understanding. In Australia, awareness is measured by proxy through reporting rates. For the most recently completed reporting period, the non-compliance rate was approximately 7%. In the United Kingdom, there was 100% compliance in the first two years of reporting.

Despite the limitations, using non-compliance rates as a proxy for awareness is an inexpensive and non-labour-intensive approach to gathering more information on employers understanding of their reporting requirements. However, many countries do not collect information on reporting rates either – part of a broader pattern of weak enforcement of reporting rules (see Chapter 6).

Employee representatives – such as unions, works councils, or other employee representatives – are commonly designated to receive reports from companies on pay gaps. These representatives then share the outcomes with employees (see Table 5.2). In some cases, employees are also directly informed.

Several countries explicitly require employer reporting to the government in various forms. These countries include Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

  • Australia, Canada, Chile,6 Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, require companies to report to a government agency;

  • Denmark and Lithuania require a pay gap analysis be carried out by a government body (for more on these novel approaches, see Chapter 7);

  • Iceland and Switzerland require that pay gap analysis be examined by a government-validated auditor who is subject to government regulation.

Eleven OECD countries report the results of gender pay gap reporting to the public, though the content of this reporting varies (see Section 5.3). In Australia, for example, the public has been able to view select reported data – including gender composition of the workforce, including at seniority levels, and the existence of policies/strategies pertaining to gender equality and equal remuneration. New legislation now requires the Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency to publish employer gender pay gaps, which will occur for the first time in 2024. This is similar to countries like Lithuania and the United Kingdom where the public can see the company-level gender wage gap for specific firms.

Pay transparency programmes attempt to promote equal pay by providing information about the existence and size of gender pay gaps. Therefore, it is crucial that the gender pay gap reporting system – and the information coming from pay gap analyses – are transparent to workers and other stakeholders. In short, employers should be accountable to their workers, whether that be workers themselves or their representatives.

Engagement with employee representatives during the review and reporting process is clearly and explicitly regulated in a few countries. In Finland, Norway, and Sweden, pay reporting requirements and equal pay audits must be conducted in co-operation with employees and their representatives – who are directly informed of the results as they are involved in producing them.

In most countries, employers must explicitly share with worker representatives the results of reporting and/or auditing processes. This is the case in at least Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. The specific requirements vary. For example, in Belgium, discussion with employee representatives in the works council or the trade union delegation is required. In Finland, discussion with an elected representative, the occupational safety and health representative or another employee-appointed representative is necessary. In Italy, companies’ trade unions must be informed. In Austria, various worker representation bodies should be informed depending on their availability.

Additionally, a majority of these countries also mandate employers to inform employees directly, not only through employee representatives. Individual employees may be informed through communication with employee representatives, directly through a publicly available document (e.g. France7) or through other means. In Switzerland, for example, the Logib reporting system requires employees to be informed in writing within one year of the conclusion of the audit.

Employees are the direct recipients of pay information only when they have no legal representation in their workplace. For instance, in Spanish companies without legal representatives, workers can directly access salary registry8 information, but they are only able to access percentage differences.

In Belgium and Italy there is no explicit requirement to inform employees. However, in Belgium, the employee representatives can inform the employees that the wage gap analysis has taken place, that a problem has been identified, if any, and that, as a result, an action plan is (or is not) being developed.

Reporting to a designated government agency is another common requirement for pay gap reports (see also information on monitoring in Chapter 6).

The results of private sector pay reporting and/or auditing must be shared with (or the reporting process takes place through) government bodies in a number of countries, including Australia (Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency), Canada (the Minister of Labour) and the office of the Pay Equity Commissioner),9 Chile (Chilean Financial Market Commission), Denmark (Statistics Denmark through the Structure of Earnings Survey10), France (Labour inspectorate in France’s Ministry of Labour, Employment and Inclusion), Iceland (Directorate of Equality), Israel (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), Italy (Italian Regional Gender Equality Advisor), Lithuania (State Labour Inspectorate), Portugal (Portuguese Ministry for Labour, Solidarity and Social Security (Labour Inspectorate and the Commission for Equality in Labour and Employment), and Sweden (Swedish Equality Ombudsman).

Among these, France has one of the most comprehensive information sharing system (Box 5.1). French employers must declare the results of pay reporting to the authorities and make them available to the social and economic committee (CSE) via the economic and social database (BDESE).11 This includes the individual indicator scores – including when some of them cannot be calculated – as well as details on the methodology used. The company is also required to communicate the results obtained for each of the indicators and the overall score of the Index to the administration digitally. If the overall score cannot be calculated, the company must provide an explanation for this.

Public knowledge of gender pay information is important as it can help build social pressure to address gender inequality. For instance, the United Kingdom’s “name and shame” approach to salary reporting has helped ensure 100% compliance in his first two years of programme implementation and is credited with stimulating public debate on the gender pay gap (OECD, 2021[1]).

According to Duchini et al. (2020) UK’s pay transparency regulations are also influencing hiring practices; those employers affected tend to adopt practices that are more attractive to women, such as providing information about wages in job advertisement and offering flexible working arrangements. This can have large effects: in a recent survey experiment (Blundell, 2021[7]), in order to not be hired by the (hypothetical) employer with the highest gender pay gap in their industry, a majority of women would accept a 2.5% lower salary. In the experiment women are prepared to accept, on average, 4.9% lower pay to avoid this high pay gap employer (Blundell, 2021[7]).

Approximately half of the countries with pay reporting mechanisms require some form of gender-disaggregated pay statistics to be shared with the general public (see Table 5.3).

All collected information must be shared with the public in the form of a report or action plan in Australia, Canada (under the Employment Equity Act), Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

In the remaining countries only a part of the results must be shared. For instance, in France the overall score of the Professional Equality Index and the results of all the indicators obtained in the Index are public, but not the report detailing the calculations of the Index. In Japan, Korea, and Lithuania, the calculated pay statistics, e.g. gender pay gaps or average pay by gender, that must be published.

When results are shared with the general public, in most cases individual employers can be identified. They are typically required to publish the results on their company websites. This transparency is key to building social pressure, as various stakeholders, including social actors, media, individual employees and shareholders, can compare the gender pay gaps across companies.

In some countries, gender pay gaps are shared publicly at aggregate levels, such that individual employers cannot be identified (Australia and Portugal). For example, the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency prepares and publishes annually gender pay gaps at aggregate level for the entire dataset of employers disaggregated by industry, occupation and manager categories.12 The Portuguese Ministry for Labour, Solidarity and Social Security (Strategy and Planning Office) annually prepares and publishes the aggregate gender pay gaps (adjusted and unadjusted gaps) disaggregated by industry, occupation, educational attainment, seniority, region.

Importantly, for any of these communication measures to have an effect, stakeholders like workers and the public must know to look for results of pay gap reporting. Pay gap reporting regimes should therefore be connected to regular awareness-raising campaigns so that employers, workers, and the public are “on the lookout” for gender pay gaps – and engaged in closing them.

Very little research has looked at how gender pay gaps can be best communicated to ensure stakeholder understanding. But how gender pay gaps are reported to stakeholders matters, as illustrated by a UK study. Using a randomised control trial, the Behavioural Insights Team commissioned by the UK Government Equalities Office tested five alternative ways13 of communicating the wage gap (United Kingdom Government Equalities Office, 2018[8]). The study revealed that benchmarking information – placing a company’s result in the context of other companies’ results – helps readers differentiate between companies with high gender wage gaps and companies with low ones. When statistics are presented in terms of money, rather than a simple percentage, the ability to understand the gender pay gap is maximised. A likely explanation for this is that people relate to monetary comparisons (e.g. 90 pence to every pound) more easily than percentages. The findings of this study have direct implications for the effectiveness of pay reporting rules.

References

[7] Blundell, J. (2021), “Wage responses to gender pay gap reporting requirements”, CEP Discussion Papers DP 1750, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE, https://ideas.repec.org/p/cep/cepdps/dp1750.html (accessed on 26 August 2021).

[2] Cowper-Coles, M. et al. (2021), Bridging the gap? An analysis of gender pay gap reporting in six countries, https://www.kcl.ac.uk/giwl/assets/bridging-the-gap-full-report.pdf.

[3] Cullen, Z. (2023), “Is Pay Transparency Good?”, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper w31060, https://www.nber.org/papers/w31060.

[4] Duchini, E., S. Simion and A. Turrell (2020), “Pay Transparency and Cracks in the Glass Ceiling”, CAGE Online Working Paper Series, p. 482, https://ideas.repec.org/p/cge/wacage/482.html.

[6] Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Finland (2020), Työpaikkojen tasa-arvosuunnitelmat ja palkkakartoitukset 2020, https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/162520/STM_2020_33_rap.pdf?sequence=4&isAllowed=y.

[1] OECD (2021), Pay Transparency Tools to Close the Gender Wage Gap, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/eba5b91d-en.

[5] Swedish National Audit Office (2019), The Discrimination Act’s equal pay survey requirement – a blunt instrument for reducing the gender pay gap (RiR 2019:16), https://www.riksrevisionen.se/en/audit-reports/audit-reports/2019/the-discrimination-acts-equal-pay-survey-requirement---a-blunt-instrument-for-reducing-the-gender-pay-gap.html.

[8] United Kingdom Government Equalities Office (2018), “Presenting gender pay gap figures to the public: an online randomised control trial”, GOV.UK, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/716145/Presenting_GPG_figures_to_the_public.pdf.

Notes

← 1. See Chapter 7, on practical tools and guidance, for more information on how these websites look and on other digital tools to facilitate gender pay gap reporting.

← 2. For example, it may be difficult for governments to know exactly which companies are required to report if companies’ inclusion in a pay reporting system depends on the firm’s size at a given point in a year. The government simply might not have this information.

← 3. Reflecting OECD governments’ responses to the OECD GPTQ 2022 question “To what extent are employers in your country aware of reporting requirements? If needed, please specify”, with the following possible responses: “very unaware”, “fairly unaware”, “not unaware nor aware”, “fairly aware”, and “very aware”.

← 4. The Swedish National Audit Office report based on this survey (“Diskrimineringslagens krav på lönekartläggning – ett trubbigt verktyg för att minska löneskillnader mellan könen”) is available at https://www.riksrevisionen.se/rapporter/granskningsrapporter/2019/diskrimineringslagens-krav-pa-lonekartlaggning--ett-trubbigt-verktyg-for-att-minska-loneskillnader-mellan-konen.html.

← 5. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health report based on this survey (“Työpaikkojen tasa-arvosuunnitelmat ja palkkakartoitukset 2020”) is available at https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/162520.

← 6. For Canada and Chile this refers to segments of the private sector: federally regulated employees in Canada, and certain financial sector workers in Chile.

← 7. On the Egapro website (https://egapro.travail.gouv.fr/consulter-index/) it is possible to consult gender pay gap information for all French companies that need to report. This information includes the overall index score and scores for the individual indicators.

← 8. All employers in Spain, regardless of size, are obliged to keep a register with the average values of salaries, salary supplements and non-wage payments of its staff, broken down by sex and distributed by professional groups, professional categories, or jobs of equal or equal value. Employees have the right to access, through the legal representation of workers in the company, the wage register of their company. These registries are not available to the general public.

← 9. Canada’s pay reporting regulation is two-fold, pay gap reporting under the Employment Equity Act applies to federally regulated private-sector employers with 100 or more employees. These employers submit annual reports to the Minister of Labour by 1 June of each year. Conversely, under the Pay Equity Act, federally regulated employers in both the private (10 employees or more) and public sectors (no employee threshold) are required to submit an annual statement on their pay equity plans to the Pay Equity Commissioner.

← 10. The Structure of Earnings survey provides detailed information about the earnings of employees in the labour market disaggregated by level of education, occupation, region, industry, gender and age. The structural statistics on earnings form part of Statistics Denmark’s coherent statistical system for earnings and labour costs. Employees in the public sector, in corporations and in organisations are covered. More information is available at https://www.dst.dk/en/Statistik/dokumentation/documentationofstatistics/structure-of-earnings.

← 11. Base de données économiques, sociales et environnementales (BDESE), i.e. the economic, social and environmental database, gathers all the information necessary for the consultations and recurrent information that the employer makes available to the worker representatives in the Commitée Sociale et Economique, i.e. the Social and Economic Committee (CSE).

← 12. 2023 legislation now requires the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to also publish employer gender pay gaps. This will begin in 2024, however, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency will also continue to publish these aggregate gender pay gaps.

← 13. The treatment groups were exposed to the following interventions: 1) the gender pay gap (GPG) presented as percentage and visually in a bar chart; 2) identical to 1st but with benchmarking (against other companies) information; 3) identical to 2, but GPG presented in terms of money and visually as coins; 4) GPG presented as percentages in the type of the UK Energy Performance Certificate. The control group only saw the percentage difference GPG.

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