How do we go about leaning in to the gender pay gap?
This story began a long time ago for me. While I can’t quite pinpoint the exact moment in time when gender equality became a ’cause’ for me (as opposed to something that I just thought I could work myself harder to get over), I know that the flames were fanned by the publishing of the phenomenon that was Lean In.
A friend of mine, the uber talented Harriet Minter (journalist, speaker and women in leadership advocate) wrote a great piece last week in The Pool about whether Lean In was still relevant today – concluding that yes it was, even with all its faults.
“It’s relevant because it shows all of us clearly exactly how the power structure is set up to support men and discourage women. It’s relevant because it challenges us all to take action in our own lives and not settle for less than we’re worth. And it’s relevant because it started a discussion about women and work without which I’m not sure we’d be where we are today.”
So what now?
Well, right now in the UK (which still counts as home whenever I get a chance to rant…) companies with over 250 employees are required to publish their gender pay gap figures for the first time by end of day today.
This has been a hanging question on my part for at least the last three years – since just before I went on my final maternity leave when it was just starting to get discussed as a possibility.
To find out what UK employers are required to publish, together with the explanations of the data requested – plus a link to the database of what companies have published – click here…
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading a selection of the published reports.
Some have made my blood boil. Made me so angry that I didn’t know what to do or say in response. The tone cursory and derisive. Explaining that it really wasn’t an issue at all. Just historical fact (repeating itself, again and again).
Some have come across as transparent and written in good, if slightly awkward, faith – making me believe that closing the gender pay gap is being taken seriously in at least some quarters.
And some have had positive stories of negative pay gaps that could have been spinned…but instead they faced the fact that they had other gender equality issues to face. Other areas to improve. That their work was, in fact, far from done. These are the ones that had the most uplifting impact on me – the ones that openly acknowledged that there were still so many ways to be better.
And then as a working female, I was left with a lingering, uncomfortable question.
What’s the next step?
I’m a firm believer that once a step is taken, once we get beyond thinking and into action, the ground will rise to meet the foot to complete the next step. The path will become clear. But this time? I wasn’t so sure…
Until I started talking about it with some of my Leadership tribe – who made me realise that my staying quiet was just my own fear getting the better of me…(& if I can’t face my fears of not being liked and speak out, in the absurdly lucky & enjoyable position that I have managed to create, then who the hell can? )
Plus a non-response would be a complete disservice to the empowerment & equality of women – something that I have been working on for years – for myself, my teams and anyone who in any way stood to benefit or be inspired by even the smallest step in the right direction.
So here goes…
Here’s how I think we can start leaning in to the gender pay gap
Firstly, if you’re angry (as I most certainly have been) then read this – some of the tone still chafes a little, suggesting that now is not the time to be belligerent (which I get, but – if not now, when???…) – but their proactive suggestions around actively making your bosses feel the heat, interrogating the promises to do better and being on the look out for corporate hogwash are helpful – and if followed en masse, might just help keep the fires of discomfort burning a little longer, which can only help shift the conversations along another notch or two…
And then I came up with my own list of questions that I would want to be finding answers to, if I were an employee in the UK today…
If the gender balance of the company is significantly out of kilter – what are the Leadership of the company doing to balance that out? Diversity (in all its forms) offers a strategic and financial competitive edge to companies. McKinsey have been reporting on this for years. If the company isn’t actively listening to that message and acting upon it – why not?
How many Board & Senior Management positions are held by females? On the assumption that this is not sat at the same level as males, what are the company’s plans to address this? What initiatives do the Leadership Team have in place to support the promotion of women into more senior positions? How do they actively support and promote flexible working? What % of their women who leave on maternity, return?
Do the company have a good story to tell on a role-by-role basis? If yes, why not openly share that data? It is illegal to pay men more than women for the same work, but it’s hard to get actual data here as no-one likes to talk about money and companies often make it feel as if it is ‘not allowed’ to talk about your salary (& bonuses & package etc etc). However it is important to know that The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to prevent employees from having discussions to establish if there are differences in pay. So be brave. Get asking… (More info from ACAS on that and what ‘equal pay’ actually means here…)
What are the Leadership actually DOING to address the real-time pay differential? What is their plan? What are the details?
What timescale do they have in mind to achieve what hoped for results? Do they have a Diversity Champion on the Leadership Team? What diversity metrics are being tracked at Board level? And how often?What are they aiming for – and by when? It’s sad but true that there won’t be an overnight fix but… when it comes to efforts, what gets tracked, measured and reported gets focused and acted upon…
Do they have a clear, open channel of communication for anyone who wants to talk about the Gender Pay Gap Report data now that it is published? If not, why not? If yes, has it been strongly communicated to all employees (from the top down, at each & every level) that the Leadership want to actively engage in this conversation with people?
How are raises given? And bonuses awarded? Are there standard procedures? Scales against which these are awarded based on merit? Are they transparent? These factors can weigh more heavily the more ‘loyal’ you are to a company and if they are entirely ‘discretionary’ based on individual Managers feelings, then you are at more risk. Be aware.
Why do women leave the company? What Exit Interview data do they hold on this? And what actions have they taken to address any recurrent issues?
And what if you feel that your working life is okay right now?
Well, firstly – hurrah – I’m super pleased for you. Share your story – and that of your company, because right now, I feel we could all use some good news.
My advice would be to read the data, and the stories, from as many similar or interesting companies as you can. Get a feel for the tone, the words, the personal, the truth…
Even if you think it’s not relevant to you now, I can promise you that knowledge, and informed opinion, can quickly become power in the right hands. So better those hands be yours…
Work out what IS important to you right now about the company you work for (or the company you want to work for) and see how they stack up against your desires. You are entitled to want things. You do not have to simply be ‘grateful’ for the fact that you have a job.
It is by being curious and voicing your questions that we all get to start leaning in to the gender pay gap.