With the Office for National Statistics (ONS) due tomorrow to publish its annual snapshot of the gap between what men and women workers are paid, the CIPD today reports evidence of employer practice and attitudes to measuring the gender pay gap in the workplace.

The autumn 2009 CIPD/KPMG Labour Market Outlook (LMO) survey, conducted by IPSOS Mori, finds that fewer than 1 in 5 (18%) private sector employers measure their gender pay gap, the vast majority, and especially smaller employers, considering this unnecessary for their business. In the public sector, where equal pay monitoring is a statutory requirement, 2 in 5 (43%) employers only complete audits to tick the necessary bureaucratic box rather than as part of an underlying effort to advance gender equality.

The survey findings are likely to disappoint the government which has included provisions in its Equality Bill to require private and third sector organisations with more than 250 employees to report on gender pay gaps if too few are doing so voluntarily by 2013.

Dianah Worman, CIPD Diversity Adviser says: “Judging by these survey findings the government faces an uphill struggle in its efforts to change employer attitudes to closing the gender pay gap, which the latest ONS figures will undoubtedly show still remains far too wide.

The bulk of private sector employers appear complacent about the gap — especially smaller employers who won’t in any case be affected by the reporting provisions of the Equality Bill — while many public sector employers seem more concerned about complying with their statutory reporting duty than driving genuine gender equality in the workplace. The findings overall suggest that compulsory pay audits are at best a blunt instrument for promoting effective action on closing the gender pay gap and highlight the need for government to instead focus on helping employers in all sectors understand the business benefits of tackling unfair treatment on pay.”

Employers that do measure their pay gap report that it provides useful insights and benchmarking data (60%) and helps inform pay reviews before they take place (43%). However, the survey finds that the average cost of conducting a gender pay audit is more than £5,000 — fifty times higher than government estimates.

“We would encourage all employers to investigate their pay structures from the perspective of fairness and equality whether or not legislation is introduced to this effect. Equal pay audits can help to tangibly measure the achievement of fairness, and we believe that a fair approach to reward and recognition has a positive impact on employee engagement. Leading businesses examine their pay gaps not because of Government, but because they understand the reputational and legal damage in not getting it right.

Ingrid Waterfield, KPMG Head of Reward