Eliminating the gap in FTSE 100 companies will take about 200 years at the current rate of progress, according to a report by the Equality Trust © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The number of UK organisations reporting on their gender pay gap has halved during the past year, adding to concerns that the coronavirus pandemic could set back equality in the workplace.

The average pay gap increased from 11.9 per cent to 12.9 per cent in the year to April, according to Financial Times analysis of government figures — but only half of the 10,000 eligible UK employers submitted data to the government in the period.

The findings come amid concerns that the crisis is already having a disproportionate impact on jobs held by women, as campaigners warn that women are taking on a greater share of child care and schooling duties during the lockdown.

The UK government removed the requirement for companies to report their pay gaps this year at the onset of the coronavirus crisis in March in an attempt to help companies that were struggling to cope.

But the move came less than two weeks before the April deadline, which is “a worrying sign for things to come for gender equality in the workplace” given many companies should have been ready to report, according to a report by Business in the Community, the group founded by the Prince of Wales to support responsible business.

Charlotte Woodworth, gender equality campaign director at Business in the Community, said: “The choices companies make now will play a vital role in deciding whether we lock in the progress made in recent years, or see women’s standing at work unravel. This crisis could see women’s equality pushed back a generation.”

Among companies that submitted data in 2019 but have failed to do so this year are Glencore, Just Eat, four subsidiaries of the International Airlines Group including British Airways, seven subsidiaries of Wm Morrison and 17 subsidiaries of WPP.

Morrisons said it had not published details of its gender pay gap due to the need to “ensure resources were allocated in feeding the nation” and the “substantial” amount of work required in pulling the data together. “Supporting women to develop, progress and grow within Morrisons remains a priority,” it added.

Signs of a more relaxed approach to corporate governance during the pandemic have caused concern among campaigners as well as some investors.

The Local Authority Pension Fund Forum, whose members collectively own £300bn of assets, last week said it would continue to demand the highest standards of corporate governance from company boards. Giving companies a “free pass in hard times” would be self-defeating, according to LAPFF chair councillor Doug McMurdo.

A separate report by the Equality Trust, a UK-based charity, released on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Equal Pay Act 1970, said that only 66 of the FTSE 100 had reported data for the group or subsidiaries this year, compared with 86 in the previous reporting period. The pay gap for the companies reporting this year was 16.8 per cent, compared with 16.9 per cent in the previous year.

Eliminating the gender pay gap in FTSE 100 companies will take almost 200 years at the current rate of progress, according to the report, which is in its second year.

The 10 FTSE 100 companies with the widest pay gaps all reported gaps of 40 per cent or more. In other words, for every £1 a man earns, on average, a woman earns 60p. At HSBC Bank, the figure is 51p.

Bar chart showing ten FTSE 100 companies or their subsidiaries with the biggest gender pay gap favouring men

Lack of transparent pay structures and failure to advertise pay rates for vacancies by the companies in the index were among “high risk” practices contributing to the gender pay gap, said the report.

“At a time when it’s extremely clear that the roles women do are acutely undervalued, being paid less than men for the same work or work of equal value, adds insult to injury,” said Wanda Wyporska, executive director of The Equality Trust. “[The trust] is calling for pay transparency across organisations, as part of an end to pay discrimination, not just for women, but for all.”

UK employers with 250 or more staff have to report the gap between what they paid their female and male employees on a snapshot date in April each year. They report their mean and median gender pay gaps, bonus gaps, and the distribution of men and women across four pay quartiles.

This article has been amended to clarify that four subsidiaries of BT are not among companies that submitted gender pay gap data in 2019 but have failed to do so this year.

Letter in response to this article:

Gender pay submissions will be another casualty / From Sarah Dudney, London SE24, UK

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