The gender pay gap is going to be a hot topic in 2018. With the mandatory reporting deadline for companies with over 250 employees fast approaching, organisations everywhere will find themselves with it at the top of their strategic agenda… whether they’re comfortable with that or not.

There has been a lot written about how the provision for mandatory reporting shows that we’re starting to address this topic, but that’s simply not true. Mandatory reporting will simply identify the size of the problem. It is entirely meaningless unless we follow it up with decisive action.

We don’t know how to solve the issue

From the commentary I have seen surrounding the published gender pay gaps to date, I have serious concerns that organisations don’t appear to know actually how to solve the issue. The proposals which have been put together predominantly skirt around the issue. “We will introduce a programme to encourage more women into leadership roles.” “We will look to positively discriminate in order to achieve a better gender balance in our boardroom.”

Well, okay… but that isn’t really going to change anything. We’re snipping at the coattails of the gender pay gap rather than delivering the wholesale change which is going to be necessary to truly eradicate a pay gap which has now been in place for hundreds of years.

Women aren’t progressing to senior roles

To my mind, what needs to happen is really rather straightforward. The biggest contributor to the gender pay gap is the relatively small percentage of women in senior roles, something which is being borne out in the pay quartile reporting coming through from organisations. Women simply aren’t progressing to senior roles. Why? Well, let’s look at the facts, shall we.

The vast, vast majority of senior roles are advertised and worked as full time positions. And not simply that. These are full time positions which are usually office based, almost without exception require the postholder to be in the office well outside of the 9-5, and frequently also require large amounts of travel… a high percentage of which is outside of working hours.

Let’s get real

Can you see any parent with childcare responsibilities being able to sign up for that? Of course you can’t. And while I’m not suggesting for one moment that childcare is solely the responsibility of women, the fact remains that, with society unbalanced as it is currently, it is primarily the lower wage earner – primarily the women – who are the main carers for their children. School hours are typically 9am-3pm. With wrap around care, you might be able to push this to 8am-6pm. Add in time for a commute… and you can see the problem.

So, if we’re serious about wanting to address the gender pay gap, then let’s get real. While there might be a tiny minority of senior roles where twelve hour days and frequent travel are an actual requirement of the role… these are the minority. The exceptions. The vast majority of senior roles can, and should, be open to both part and full time workers, to those who can be in the office 24/7, but also to those who can’t. We need to structure our senior roles around delivery, rather than obsessing over presenteeism and selecting the candidate most willing to give up their evenings and weekends to travel at our beck and call.

Less can mean more

I am lucky enough to be a woman with childcare responsibilities working in a senior role – and I use the word ‘lucky’ deliberately, because I personally know so many women who would love to be doing the same, but can’t, because their organisations just won’t open their eyes to the fact that employing someone who has to leave the office by a set time each day doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be able to deliver for you. Spoiler alert… with a need to cram so much into every single hour of the day, they might even be able to deliver more for you! (Heartfelt thanks to Benefex for being one of the few employers out there who truly gets this.)

Next up, let’s make it unlawful to ask someone at interview what their current/previous salary is. California have already done this, and it’s time for the rest of the world to follow. You can see the problem. If your principle is to only pay someone a maximum of 10% more than they earned in their previous role… but every woman who applies to work for you is already earning an average of 18% less than their male counterparts… you don’t have to be an expert at maths to see that that gap never closes. If anything, it just keeps increasing.

Justify what your roles are worth

Spend time on your reward strategy so that you can truly justify what each role in your organisation is worth. Then pay the successful candidates for that role just that… regardless of their gender, or indeed any other minority characteristics they might demonstrate. You’re paying for their skills. What they look like or where they come from shouldn’t even come into it.

Stop valuing stereotypically male characteristics over stereotypically female characteristics in the workplace. We’ve all heard variations on the conversation at pay review time: “Well, we absolutely need to reward John, he hasn’t quite made target but he’s so strong and assertive in front of clients.” “Jane’s done well and smashed all of her targets, but she just tends to take a bit of a back seat in meetings.” If someone is delivering for a business, and achieving what’s expected of them, then they should be rewarded. Show me an organisation where the male dominated functions aren’t better paid than the female dominated functions, and I’ll eat my hat. We need to break this cycle.

#timesup

Finally – and perhaps stating the blindingly obvious – we have to absolutely eliminate all instances of sexual harassment and discrimination from within our workplaces. Make no mistake about it – I have multiple personal accounts from friends and colleagues who have stated that they have chosen not to progress up the career hierarchy “because I just don’t want to have to deal with all that”.

‘All that’ being the everyday sexism which typically becomes more pronounced as you get higher up the organisation. The male dominated boozy meals out, with slurred judgements made on the attractiveness of various women in the office. (I once heard an account of an – all male – management team who used to use their regular Board meetings to pick their ‘Top Ten’ girls from the office. True story.) The assumption that you must only be in the meeting room to take minutes. The constant fighting to have your voice heard over those men who believe it is perfectly okay to talk over you and claim your ideas as their own.

Worn down

I know of countless women who have been worn down by thousands of similar such moments, and have decided either to give up on progressing, or even step away from the top levels of the world of work altogether. Each time they do so, our workplaces become the poorer for it. We all know the studies which prove how diversity at all levels within our organisations improve productivity levels. It is a shame there are so many businesses out there who still seem unwilling to actually do anything about it.

The gender pay gap affects all of us, because it is one of the most high profile reminders of the deep seated disparity within our societies. We need to close it, and to do so, we need to take decisive and radical action, not the rather pathetic and largely meaningless suggestions which have appeared in gender pay gap commentaries to date.

I have two children, and I am choosing to fight every day to ensure they both grow up into a world where what their gender happens to be has absolutely nothing to do with what they are paid; that they are paid on the worth of what they deliver, not on what they happen to be. I would ask you all to join me on that fight.