How do you know how valued you are in a workplace? Well, money is a good place to start. And if this week’s flurry of gender pay gap reports are anything to go by, in the UK we do not value the hard work of women nearly as much as that of men. We value it 18.5% less, in fact. 
Whilst our figures aren’t flattering, Britain can at least hold its head high, safe in the knowledge we are attempting to address the issue. Unlike the US, where Trump has just repealed a similar law that would look at how companies there measure up. Positively, barring a few exceptions we’ve seen many companies facing up to the institutional issues that have led to such widespread inequality.
Now the real question is, what can business leaders learn from this shameful census, and what action they will take to effect sustainable, lasting change?
Understanding why we are where we are
We must first be clear that the gender pay gap and equal pay are two different things.
Equal pay refers to the legal requirement for an organisation to equally pay male and female staff members who are engaged in equal or similar work or work of equal value. Whereas the gender pay gap is a broader measure of the difference in the average earnings of men and women—regardless of the nature of their work—across an organisation.
Understanding this difference highlights the fundamental cause of our pay problem – the severe lack of females in senior leadership roles. There are systemic barriers to female progression in business and multiple reasons for this. Whether consciously or not, the traditional pale, male, stale leaders are hiring for top roles in their own image, and the stigma around maternity leave and flexible working – issues which traditionally affect more women than men – is still very much present.
How can businesses tackle this issue?
Exposing this systemic inequality is the start, but to truly tackle this ingrained structural problem businesses need to work with their employees to use this data in a positive way and make real, tangible change.
- An honest narrative and open dialogue – Be honest and bring your employees on the journey with you. Your company’s numbers may not be the best out there. You need to address this head on with your staff and identify the real reasons behind the gap? Have an open discussion and be prepared to answer challenging questions, and arm yourself with your company action plan to change these numbers for the better.
- Diverse hiring practices – One of the simplest to fix. While it isn’t realistic or sensible to just fire all the old, white men, you can explore your hiring practices and talent pipeline. Are you actively looking to hire/promote women? And are you recruiting from a diverse pool in order to do so? A general rule of thumb is to make sure that there are always women in the interview shortlist. The talent is always out there, you just need to look in the right places.
- Data, data, data – Review your diversity at every level of the business and track staff retention. Where are your shortcomings? And how do you plan to address these?
- Provide the right training – Ensure any mandatory training is inclusive and non-discriminatory. It’s worth including things like conscious inclusion training, which can really help shift perceptions and therefore a company’s culture. It’s not good enough to send ‘the women’ on leadership training courses – this implies it is women who need fixing, not the system.
- Look at your maternity and paternity policies – One of the most commonly cited reasons for the lack of women in the boardroom is the ‘baby gap’ – women taking maternity leave and being penalised when they return for a perceived lack of commitment. Normalising flexible working and shared parental leave is crucial. Once parental leave is shared 50/50 between both parents we’ll know we have achieved real change.
Rather than getting bogged down with the negativity of the gender pay gap reporting, we need to use it as a springboard. This data provides quantitative proof of what women have been saying for years, and puts the issue firmly in the hands of business leaders to resolve. We know that diversity in all its forms leads to greater productivity, profitability and staff happiness, so if companies don’t address these findings they’re effectively curtailing their own growth. Stop making excuses, and take some action.