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No easy answers to equal pay – but we must ask the difficult questions

"It's common sense to pay men and women equally, but this demonstrably is not happening"

C+D's deputy editor asks where the sector goes from here in the debate about equal pay in community pharmacy

I hope C+D’s recent analysis of the difference in pay between male and female pharmacists – which found that the average male pharmacist's pay is more than £2,000 higher than female pharmacists in the same role – is a valuable addition to the ongoing debate about equal pay.

Better placed people than me – sector leaders, and the president of an organisation that represents women in the profession – have posited their reasons why community pharmacy doesn’t have equal pay.

We timed the publication of our analysis, and C+D’s interactive tool that lets you explore the data, very deliberately. For one thing, it was a strategic move to allow time for our coverage of the gender pay gap – a different metric of inequality across the sector, assessing the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings across a business, regardless of role or seniority – to percolate.

Don't confuse the pay gap with equal pay

This was because there was a risk that the findings of our analysis of equal pay – the legal requirement that men and women in the same employment, performing equal work, must receive the same wages – would be conflated with the gender pay gap stories.

The latter revealed male employees at the large multiples are paid between 16% and 31% more on average than their female colleagues. But these findings could justifiably have been explained away by the major pharmacy chains – for example, because in these companies more women are employed in store-based roles, and because fewer women work in senior management.

One multiple insisted “there is no significant difference between hourly pay rate of male and female employees within our retail network” – and this was echoed in the comments in response to these stories.

“With the gender mix and job profiles, it’s not really a story as much as some may want it to be,” one C+D reader posted in response to the 21% gender gap at Boots.

“Male and female pharmacists are paid the same,” a response to the 31% gender pay gap at Lloydspharmacy – the highest of the major multiples – read. “None of this is sexism…it's just plain common sense,” it went on.

I hope our exclusive analysis is a big step towards challenging some of these equal pay issues. C+D has shown real evidence of an inequality that we can no longer deny exists in the sector.

Unfortunately, equal pay between men and women doing the same role in community pharmacy isn't happening, and it is a big story – even though I wish it wasn’t. And while it may be common sense to pay men and women the same for the same work, this demonstrably is not happening – in this sector and others.

Taking the debate forward

There’s still so much more to say about these issues, and what the sector can do to answer questions such as the impact of part-time work, how employees can push for flexible working, and the hourly rate of pay for employee pharmacists and managers.

That’s why, later this month, C+D will be hosting pharmacists from across the sector – including academics, experts in workforce diversity and equality, and, of course, grassroots community pharmacists – at a roundtable debate to discuss our findings, the gender pay gap, and other issues that affect everyone in the sector.

We will record the debate and make it available on the C+D website. But first, we would like to hear from you. If you would like to suggest questions, or points of debate, do get in touch by email at [email protected], and we'll put your questions to the panel.

Lilian Anekwe is deputy editor of C+D. Follow her on Twitter at @CandDLilian 

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