EPIC Technical Meeting Autumn 2021 - Fourth session on “the role of the private sector, including SMEs, in advancing pay equity”

4 Feb 2022

On 13 December, the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) held the fourth and final virtual session of its members-only annual technical meeting. During the meeting’s two panel discussions, EPIC members from across sectors highlighted pay equity tools and policies, and various challenges these actors face in achieving equal pay for work of equal value in the private sector, particularly among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The session concluded with highlights from EPIC’s work for equal pay in 2021 and a send-off by the Coalition’s previous Chair, Dr. Sylvie Durrer, Director of Switzerland’s Federal Office for Gender Equality, who has welcomed Canada as incoming Chair.

In the first panel discussion, Government representatives intervened with cohesive approaches to supporting the private sector in achieving equal pay, including Canada, Switzerland, and Iceland. Canada’s Federal Pay Equity Commissioner, Karen Jensen, stressed that building a cohesive pay equity programme is a complex, multi-tiered process that requires accessible pay equity resources, including written materials, applications and webtools, training materials, to assist employers. As such, Canada’s Pay Equity Act, and corresponding toolkits at the federal and provincial levels, supports companies of all sizes.

Capucine Kerboas of Switzerland’s Federal Office for Gender Equality shared that, to address the issue of persisting pay gaps among SMEs, the Swiss government launched a new module of the self-analysis webtool, Logib. Logib 2.0 is a virtual programme available in English, French, German, and Italian, free of charge and is both simple and efficient for pay equity assessments among SMEs. In addressing resource differences between large enterprises and SMEs that might hinder SMEs’ ability to adopt equal pay standards, Ms. Kerboas intervened to say that Logib 2.0 and other tailored tools can be of use to SMEs because they are developed specifically for those with limited capacities and prior knowledge.

Kristín Þóra Harðardóttir of the Department of Equality in Iceland’s Prime Minister’s Office shared that the Equal Pay Standard (EPS) has been the most important tool in closing the gender pay gap in Iceland and has had an important impact on the culture and consciousness of companies as it helps them understand the importance of equal pay. However, implementation of the EPS is a big challenge for SMEs, requiring new provisions to be put forward. These include the option for the smallest companies to select an ‘equal pay confirmation’ instead of a ‘certification’ and related tools have now been made available free of charge.

During the second panel discussion, participants stressed that some of the greatest challenges to addressing gender pay gaps are not only internal to organisations, but also linked to ongoing external barriers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis has had a damaging impact on industries that disproportionately employ women and has revolutionised the role of health and care work – both paid and unpaid, threatening hard-won gains toward the achievement of equal pay for work of equal value. The pandemic has also accelerated the impact of AI and other technological innovations, which greatly impacts the job market more broadly. Panellists added that, in many contexts, COVID-19 has also turned attention to other issues in the workplace, and away from conversations around equal pay.

As highlighted by Henrike von Platen, founder and CEO of the Fair Pay Innovation Lab, the most challenging step in the wake of the pandemic will be to get companies on board in analysing and responding to pay inequities, maintaining a will for equal pay amidst other obstacles. Emily M. Dickens, Chief of Staff at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and representative of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), added that such challenges are highlighted in SHRM’s newest report, with findings related to the negotiating power of women, the importance of pay transparency policies for talent retention within companies, and teaching best practices for “people managers” and pay professionals. Creating equal opportunity also includes implementation of parental leave, addressing gender divides in different types of jobs, and commitments from the top, which can have a greater effect in ensuring pay equity is central to company culture.

The second panel concluded with a brief discussion of workplace culture, transparency, and fairness, as they are essential to addressing not only the gender pay gap but also gaps relating to other identities such as race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and gender identity, and disability.

Key takeaways from the session include:

• It is critical, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, for governments to provide pay equity tools and resources for employers to implement pay equity laws and programmes, especially in assisting SMEs that may lack adequate resources.

• Some of the greatest challenges to equal pay policy and programme implementation have come from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted work structures, flows, and companies’ attention to gender pay gaps.

• Implementing parental leave, addressing gender divides in different types of jobs, and making commitments at the highest levels of companies can create equal opportunity at all types of companies.

• Creating a workplace culture of pay transparency and openness, with organisation-wide commitments to analysis of remuneration, can also reduce pay inequities among intersecting identities, including those between individuals of disparate races, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations and gender identities, and abilities, for example.