A new report shows that 67% of companies in Ireland are concerned about the potential reputational risks of gender pay gap reporting.

50% of businesses also worry about the cost that addressing pay differentials might impose on their business, according to the results of a survey carried out by HR and employee benefits consultants Mercer. 

The Mercer 2018 Ireland Gender Pay Gap Snapshot Survey of companies reveals that 74% of companies here agree with the principle of gender pay gap reporting, while 67% believe it would have a positive impact.

But there is concern about the potential negative reputational impact of mandatory disclosures, with a third of companies fearing that they will under-perform relative to Ireland's average gender pay gap of 13.9%. 

While the Irish gender pay gap is below the EU average of 16.7%, female representation on publicly listed companies is just 13.2% of board members compared to an EU average of 21.2%.

The survey also reveals a surprising lack of preparedness by companies in Ireland for addressing the issue of gender pay differentials. 

70% of companies surveyed said they had yet to explore whether any gender bias existed, and less than half plan to conduct an equal pay audit in the next 18 months. 

While most companies appear to believe there is a value in gender pay gap reporting, there is considerable concern about the potential cost of addressing differentials, with 50% of companies saying they are worried about this issue.

Helen McCarthy, Senior HR Strategy Consultant at Mercer, said that prompted by some recent high-profile revelations on gender pay differentials, the gender pay gap has received much attention globally, and not before time. 

"Our survey shows that companies in Ireland are taking this issue very seriously amid concerns about the potential reputation impact in the event of mandatory reporting in Ireland.  This in turn is sparking different conversations about diversity, inclusion, talent and pay," Ms McCarthy said. 

She said that while it is good to see that almost three quarters of survey respondents agree with the principle of gender pay gap reporting and that two-thirds believe reporting will make a positive difference. 

But she also voiced concern that a large majority of companies have taken no action to discover whether gender bias exists in their pay programmes.  

"Half do not plan to conduct an equal pay audit in the next 18 months while just under half have reviewed policies to improve gender diversity. Clearly, much work remains to be done," she added.