Businesses in Britain came under criticism this week as a new report showed that the gap between salaries for men and women had widened at about 40 percent of the companies that reported, and that the majority of employers were still paying men more than women.
The report was a disappointment for some advocates of a 2017 regulation that required companies with at least 250 employees to report to the government the difference between average salaries and bonuses for male and female staff.
A number of countries, including Australia and Germany, have started requiring companies to report their gender pay gaps in recent years. Proponents argue that transparency can lead to improvement.
The first year’s figures were often accompanied by promises and plans to reduce the gap. But the second year’s numbers, reported by Friday, showed that not all companies had been shamed into action.
Although the pay gap narrowed slightly over all in Britain, the slow pace of change and the regression at some workplaces have prompted calls for companies to be clearer about how they intend to do better.
“In some cases, employers will have a wider gap because they have taken on new female junior staff to build their pipeline,” said Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, a women’s rights and equality organization. “But unless they can demonstrate that, it is more likely that they’ve failed to make changes.”
The penalties for companies that do not set out a long-term strategy and follow through should be tougher, Ms. Smethers said.
“Government needs to require employers to publish action plans that we can hold them accountable to, with meaningful sanctions in place for those who do not comply,” she said.
That idea has received some backing in Parliament.
“We need to start taking the next steps and ensuring that companies have action plans that are part of the reporting procedures, and that if they do not try to close their gender pay gap that they face additional fines,” Dawn Butler, the shadow secretary of state for women and equalities for the opposition Labour Party, said in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission in Britain is responsible for enforcing the reporting of gender pay gap statistics, but has no say over what businesses do to improve those statistics.
It said on Friday that about 440 companies had not met the reporting deadline. “We will be taking enforcement action against all organizations that have not filed by the deadline, requiring them to report immediately,” Rebecca Hilsenrath, the commission’s chief executive, said in a statement.
The organization has joined the calls for mandatory publication of action plans.
“Unfortunately, despite the scrutiny provided by reporting, our research has shown that very few employers have so far committed to specific measures to reduce their gaps and to set deadlines for making progress,” Ms. Hilsenrath wrote in a blog post in March.
About half of the roughly 10,500 employers that reported have outlined how they will tackle their pay gap, according to the Government Equalities Office. The office added that the government wanted more companies to put plans in place.
“We recognize that in order to close the gap entirely, we still need a much wider cultural change,” Penny Mordaunt, the minister for women and equalities, said in a statement.
The gender pay gap for Britain as a whole — the difference between median hourly pay for men and women — edged down to 17.9 percent from 18.4 percent the year before, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics in October.
The budget airline EasyJet had one of the wider gender pay gaps last year, at 45.5 percent. After scrutiny of these numbers, the company’s chief executive, Johan Lundgren, took a pay cut so that he would earn the same as his immediate predecessor, Carolyn McCall.
But the gap widened further in the airline’s latest report, showing that median pay was 47.9 percent higher for men than for women. The airline blamed gender imbalance among pilots and the hiring of more women for cabin crews.
“Improving the gender balance in the pilot community is a real focus for us, and I believe no other airline is doing more on this issue,” Mr. Lundgren said in a recent statement. “As this is a structural issue, we know it will take some years for our gender pay gap to materially improve, but we are absolutely focused on improving it in the coming years.”
The lack of change at some companies has prompted calls for companies to put more women in senior positions.
“The fundamental cause of the problem is the lack of women in senior roles,” Suki Sandhu, the chief executive of Involve, an organization focused on diversity, said in a statement. “We need to be championing women in senior positions, showcasing fantastic role models for future generations, and ensuring that women feel they belong in leadership positions.”