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Supporting people with mental health conditions at work – what lessons can we learn from gender pay gap reporting?

9th January, 2019

Alasdair MacDonald



The introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting has seen new and unprecedented attention given to the inequalities faced by women in the workplace.

For the first time in 2018, transparency about pay gaps – which are the average difference in hourly pay between different groups – saw some employers being publicly scrutinised over their figures, including by their own employees.

These public conversations are important. But beyond the headlines, the real power of transparency was demonstrated by the clear and targeted gender pay gap action plans developed by some employers, who have gone beyond the minimum legal requirement to embrace the spirit of reporting. As well as helping them tackle unfairness in their organisations, our evidence shows it will help them improve retention and engagement. These employers will be in pole position to become a workplace of choice for talented women.

What does this mean for disability at work?

We know that disabled people have lower employment rates – a persistently low 35%. And when they are in work, they are more likely to be in lower-paid, part-time, and insecure or lower-skilled jobs. All of this contributes to the disability pay gap, which includes mental health and other invisible disabilities, and sits at a too-high 13% for men and 7% for women.

Our research has also shown that men with mental health conditions face a staggering 40% pay gap.

Now the UK government has asked larger employers to voluntarily report on the numbers of disabled people they employ, and on how they support disabled employees and potential new hires. This may result in similar concerns around the reputation of visibly unequal workplaces.

We recognise that, for many employers, this will be a sensitive subject. Collecting this information in a way that staff are comfortable with will require careful planning and effort, and there will be some trepidation from all parties.

However, with around 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health condition each year, employers who plan ahead and start consulting now with their boards and workforces will be the winners in the race to attract and retain talented people.

Knowing why more people with mental health conditions aren’t progressing to senior roles, staying with an employer, or being recruited in the first place can help pinpoint issues that can form the basis of an action plan. For employers, this could be as simple as making it clear that you offer reasonable adjustments, such as flexible working for people with anxiety or training on mental health for line managers, or considering whether there is unconscious bias in your recruitment process.

We welcome transparency that drives meaningful conversations on the barriers some people still face at work. But we know from the gender pay gap experience that voluntary reporting is rarely an effective catalyst for change. We recommend that employers start preparing now for mandatory monitoring and reporting of disabled people’s recruitment, retention and progression by April 2020.


Alasdair MacDonald

Alasdair is Director of Programmes at the Equality & Human Rights Commission, the statutory body that promotes and safeguards the laws that protect our rights to fairness, dignity and respect. He is a member of the Commission’s Executive Group and leads its work on employment, living standards, and participation. Previously Alasdair was Director of Programmes at a major conservation NGO, overseeing a large team delivering programme and advocacy work in the UK and in eight countries around the world. Alasdair is Director of Programmes at the Equality & Human Rights Commission, the statutory body that promotes and safeguards the laws that protect our rights to fairness, dignity and respect. He is a member of the Commission’s Executive Group and leads its work on employment, living standards, and participation. Previously Alasdair was Director of Programmes at a major conservation NGO, overseeing a large team delivering programme and advocacy work in the UK and in eight countries around the world. Prior to this he spent a number of years with Save the Children in various roles. He spent his early career in the private sector, in a leading executive search company focused on board-level appointments.

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