Friday 10 November 2017 marked Equal Pay Day. It’s the day on which, based on the current gender pay gap, women effectively stop earning relative to men. With the gap between male and female pay sitting at a staggeringly 14.1% – and worse, not having closed in the last three years, despite the increased publicity and mandatory gender pay reporting regulations which have been introduced – it is time for us all to take action.
There is no one single reason behind the gender pay gap. According to the Fawcett Society, discrimination, the undervaluing of roles predominantly carried out by women, the fact that there is a substantially higher proportion of men holding senior posts, and unequal caring responsibilities all play a part. The reality is that, while we might be in 2017, with the glass ceiling allegedly non-existent, we are all still working in what is very much a man’s world.
The evidence is everywhere. Whether it’s the fact that cities are designed for men; the frightening statistics that seat belts are less safe for women than for men, with female drivers being 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash; or something as simple as temperature regulation in many office buildings being designed for men rather than women. Our world, and our organisations, have evolved and developed almost exclusively from a male perspective. Which is why, if we want to change that, it is going to take a wholesale change mindset from absolutely every single stakeholder in every single business out there.
Gender pay reporting regulations are not enough
Don’t get tricked into thinking that the new gender pay reporting regulations are going to change things. While it’s positive that they are encouraging organisations to be transparent about their gender pay gap, they fall notably short of actually mandating positive action to be taken. They also focus on the output – as in the current rates of pay – rather than really going back to examine the reasons for such a gap and address the root cause.
So what can we do about it? The really positive thing when it comes to the gender pay gap is that the answers are there, staring us in the face. We don’t have to spend weeks of complex analysis working out what the solution is. We can go away and start right now.
Make it everyone’s problem
While the plural of anecdote is not evidence, I’m yet to see a single person on any of my social media feeds who isn’t female raising gender pay as an issue. We’re not going to properly tackle this until we get every last stakeholder on board. While I happen to be writing this blog post as a woman, and the HR profession as a whole is female-dominated, by the time you get to HR Director level the proportion of men in senior roles has become greater than women. We are all familiar with the statistics which show us men outnumber women in the boardroom by more than four to one. Ergo, if we are truly going to close the gender pay gap, we need everyone to commit to positive action and to be treating this as a strategic priority, regardless of their gender.
Why should those who believe themselves not to be directly adversely affected by gender pay care? Well, inequality in your organisation – perceived or otherwise – is going to be directly impacting your bottom line. Research from PayScale.com showed that inequality significantly increased turnover, with 71 percent of women and 74 percent of men stating that they planned to find a new job within six months where they believed their employer was taking no action to address gender inequality. It can also hugely damage the employee experience, with a corresponding hit on engagement levels and therefore productivity.
The right thing to do
Even more importantly than that though, we should all care because it is simply the right thing to do. Equality for all is a basic human right, and in fact the belief that things should be fair isn’t simply a matter of culture or perception – it’s hard wired into our brains, as this 2008 study showed. We are fundamentally intolerant of inequity, which is why the fact it’s so prevalent across society is so surprising.
It’s about wholesale change, not sticking plasters
Sure, we need to deal with the obvious inequalities. If we’ve got two people doing the same job, and one of them is paid 10% more than the other, then that’s something we need to address. If we have two jobs at the same level, but one is paid at a higher rate than the other because it’s a traditionally ‘male’ occupation and is therefore seen as higher value, then we need to re-calibrate. Organisations should be undertaking organisational analysis of all roles and pay grades, ensuring parity cross functionally.
Beyond that, though, it’s about fundamentally redesigning our businesses to enable both men and women to progress equally. The biggest disparity in gender pay comes when you look at the percentage of women in senior level roles versus the percentage of men. Women simply don’t progress in the same numbers to senior management positions, and that’s what we need to change.
Reduce your gender bias
How do we do that? Well, there are some immediate differences we can make. Ensure that every single position in your business can be worked flexibly, whether that be home working, variable working hours, part time working patterns or job shares. I refuse to accept that there is a single role in any organisation to which at least a degree of flexibility when it comes to the way it is worked can’t be applied. Flexible working isn’t simply good for your employees, it’s good for business too – increasing productivity and giving you a much larger talent pool who want to come and work for you.
Analyse the existing senior roles within your business and measures for success, and take care to look at where gender bias may have crept in when it comes to the attributes that we value. Where we have designed roles to hang around typically male traits, it is hardly surprising that we see a minority of female post holders. The most impactful Board rooms have a strong balance of traits which are seen as typically both male and female – and those traits can be displayed by either, or indeed both genders!
There is a different way
Ultimately, it is about opening our eyes and accepting that there is a different way. The status quo that we have all fallen into right now is not working. It is failing our minorities, and it means that there is deep seated inequality in our workforces – inequality that our employees see, and are dissatisfied by. The experience of our employees is everything, and by failing to address this clear evidence of inequality, we are directly eroding their experience.
It is not hard to resolve the gender pay gap issue, provided we are prepared to take action. It is a movement that can quickly gather momentum, but it needs more than just individuals in isolation standing up to call this out as a priority. We need every single one of us to stand up, aligned, and say that we will not tolerate inequality, and that we are going to redesign the way that our workplaces operate in order to enable fairness of treatment for all. Furthermore, that we’re going to do so quickly.
Current predictions by the World Economic Forum suggest that it will take 217 years for the pay gap to close. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to accept waiting that long. I’m not going to have my children grow up under the mistaken impression that it is okay to pay someone less because of their gender. I believe in a world where equality for all is the norm, not the exception, and I am going to do everything in my power to help us get there.