Gender pay gap in hospitality: what does yours look like?

Published 11 October 2019

Howard Kennedy is a London based, full-service law firm, specialising in providing straightforward advice to entrepreneurial businesses and individuals on domestic and international matters. Its staff have a deep understanding of the retail and leisure sector, helping operators seize the opportunities generated through changing consumer tastes. Lydia Christie looks at the gender pay gap in hospitality.


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Since compulsory gender pay gap reporting began in 2017, the issue of pay equality has rarely been out of the public eye.

From BBC presenters to supermarket checkout workers, every sector has skeletons in its closet. And hospitality is no exception. Whilst CODE’s survey data suggests that the gender pay gap among respondents is slightly lower than the overall national average, there is certainly no room for complacency, with the gender pay gap for front and back of house jobs widening in the past year. So what can hospitality businesses do to address this?

Equal pay audits It’s often said that having a wide gender pay gap doesn’t mean that a business is breaking equal pay law. That’s true – a gender pay gap is often the result of women being underrepresented in senior roles, while equal pay is mostly about paying men and women the same pay for the same work – but it comes with a health warning. One requirement of equal pay law is that men and women are paid the same for work of ‘equal value’, i.e. work which is equivalent in terms of effort, skill and decision-making.

It’s worth reviewing your pay structure to assess whether male-dominated roles are paid more than female-dominated roles and whether there are legitimate and non-discriminatory reasons for any differences. Removing such discrepancies could significantly narrow some businesses’ gender pay gaps, as well as reduce the risks of legal claims. Although equal pay litigation has historically been more common in the public sector (often funded by trade unions), private sector employers are increasingly being targeted, with ASDA and Tesco both facing costly multiclaimant claims. In our experience, it’s better to assess and tackle such risks proactively, with specialist legal advice where necessary, rather than wait for claims to be brought.

Retention and progression Across all sectors, including hospitality, a major cause of the gender pay gap is that female staff don’t return after maternity leave (often because of a lack of flexible working opportunities) or see their careers (and their pay) stagnate after they have children. Whilst the demands of hospitality don’t always mesh easily with flexible working arrangements, it makes good business sense to try to reduce maternity attrition rates. High staff turnover has substantial knock-on effects, including the management time lost to recruitment, the costs of using agency staff or recruiters, and the need to train up staff to replace experienced leavers. And with Brexit set to make recruitment even tougher, we are seeing more hospitality businesses making real efforts to hang on to the staff they have.

Some examples include:

• Ensuring that staff on maternity leave are given access to training, having discussions about career progression before they go on maternity leave and having open discussions about working arrangements when they are due to return.

• Ensuring that part-time staff don’t face unnecessary barriers to promotion and career progression, as this is also likely to result in women being under-represented in higher paid roles.

• Putting in place defined policies on flexible working and career progression may help to embed a new mindset among managers.

It’s also important to consider other issues which could impact the careers of female staff. With long hours, intimate and challenging working environments – the industry has seen more than its fair share of harassment allegations in the wake of the #MeToo campaign. There should be no business dilemma here: a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and inappropriate behaviour will not only reduce the risk of expensive (and embarrassing) litigation, but may have a positive impact on retention and career progression of female staff (and hence on the business’ gender pay gap).

There are no easy fixes – but taking practical steps such as these will go a long way to addressing the root causes of the gender pay gap in kitchens and dining rooms across the country.

Lydia Christie is a legal director advising on the full range of employment law issues, both contentious and non-contentious, from recruitment through to termination of employment

This article was first published in Issue 20 of CODE Quarterly.

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