But the union believes the process could be made easier for employers if the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) set-up a ‘mentoring’ system, enabling employers undertaking an equal pay audit to contact similar organisations, who have completed the process, for practical advice.
The recommendation is contained in Prospect’s submission to the Women and Work Commission’s investigation into the gender pay gap and barriers to women’s employment.
Prospect head of research Sue Ferns said: "While civil service employers have been required to conduct equal pay reviews for some time, our members report that there has been little, if any, commitment to do so in private sector organisations. But even where the employer is prepared to conduct a pay review, it is our experience that they are daunted by the prospect of getting work underway and genuinely need some practical guidance."
Monitoring the pay gap between men and women is essential, said Ferns, particularly for women working in professional and specialist jobs such as Prospect member Bernadette Cadman, who is pursuing her equal pay claim through the European Court of Justice.
"Cadman’s experience as principal Health and Safety Executive inspector, with 12 years experience, but paid between £5,000 to £7,000 a year less than the average salary of male colleagues in the same grade, demonstrates how evidence of small aggregate differences may mask larger gaps within occupational groups."
The union’s submission also identified adequate childcare as one of the major barriers to women participating fully in the workforce. "The goal of universal childcare is a long way off," said Ferns.
"Gaps in provision can be easily identified by the lack of places for pre-school children, little provision for older children before and after school and during holidays, and the problems facing parents in rural areas with poor transport links.
"Prospect welcomes the steps taken to date, such as the introduction of exemptions from tax and national insurance contributions from childcare vouchers. But evidence from our members in the civil service reveals that existing workplace nurseries have already been closed in favour of the childcare vouchers salary sacrifice scheme."
The union is calling for a range steps to address the lack of childcare provision, along with strengthened rights to flexible working and practical assistance with continued professional development, to ensure women taking a career break have an opportunity to maintain up-to-date professional knowledge.