On 18 January 2018 the RSS co-hosted a meeting with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) called The gender data gap: Exploring the evidence base. Chaired by BBC More or Less presenter Charlotte McDonald, the event featured a keynote speech by the Rt Hon Maria Miller MP (pictured), who chairs the Women and Equalities Select Committee. Emma Rourke, director of public policy analysis at ONS and Wanda Wyporska, executive director of the Equality Trust, were also on the panel.
Charlotte McDonald opened the full-to-capacity meeting by pointing out that the word ‘gap’ can refer to a gap in our knowledge; but it can also describe disparities within the data we have. This meeting, she said, was likely to cover both meanings. She pointed out that domestic duties are not always recognised in labour surveys and gave an example of where the official number of people in jobs in Uganda suddenly jumped upwards when the question measuring this was changed to ask about ‘secondary’ as well as ‘primary’ jobs. Women whose primary role was domestic began to record secondary jobs when they hadn’t before.
Maria Miller MP opened her speech by talking about Goal 5 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals relating to gender and the need for experts to work alongside ONS to set national indicators as there are gaps in the data that we have. She talked of the importance of involving grassroots organisations to get more granular data.
Maria gave several examples of where the data we have creates challenges: violence against women is being underreported as it excludes people over age of 59. And more granular detail is often needed: domestic homicide figures do not record ethnicity. When it comes to gender pay gap reporting, we needed to disaggregate that data because it depends on other factors such as age - the real challenges are for women working part-time over age of 40. Sexual harassment in schools is also difficult to record and it is not yet clear how Ofsted will collect this data. There is also a lack of consistency where data is collected across devolved administrations. Accurate and detailed data gathering is important, Maria concluded, and ONS will need work with expert groups to get better data.
Emma Rourke started by saying that ONS are looking at whether they have the right data and if not what they need, how inclusive their data and collection is, and what new opportunities data science and data linkage offers. She presented the ONS report, 'Understanding the gender pay gap in the UK, which had been published the day before this meeting. While current data shows a steady decline in the pay gap, it also shows massive divergence for women over 40 from men, as exemplified in the following chart:
Wanda Wyporska of the Equality Trust asked if we should move away from purely data driven measures. We need to look at the data that isn't there and avoid simply basing legislation just on what we can currently measure. While there is a part statistics can play in narrative, she said, change is narrative driven. Perceptions of CEO pay, for example, can change depending on whether the median or average is used. We also need to be clear on terminology such as ‘white working class boys’ and avoid, for example, conflating black students with disadvantaged students. We also cannot just label a group of people and expect them all to have the same experience. Wanda finished by saying we should also reconsider using GDP as a measure of societal success. ‘People should be at the heart of this,’ she concluded.
A lively discussion followed. Topics discussed included:
- The limitations of using proxies for missing data or difficulties in getting the data in the first place because people are unwilling to answer questions about, for example, sexual orientation.
- Companies who report their own pay ratios - can these be checked, and how likely is it that a company will have a zero pay gap given that nationally it is 9.1%?
- The new Digital Economy Act gives ONS the ability to request data from private sector organisations. However, ONS needs to justify the use of this data and it should become a partnership between the two bodies.
- The question of women working in small businesses – and a lack of data on the pay gap there. Most people in the UK are employed by SMEs but there are problems around collecting pay data in smaller organisations as data becomes more identifiable. A solution is needed.
- There are also unknown elements of the gender pay gap, such as understanding how working part time in the past affects what full time women are earning now.
In summing up, RSS vice president for external affairs, Jen Rogers noted that collaboration is a key theme and ONS needs to work with experts to make sure we have the best indicators. She encouraged all present to read the ONS report on the pay gap. She also mentioned that the RSS is planning to look at this in terms of international issues at our conference in September.