Olivia Hill was appointed to the role at AAT (the Association of Accounting Technicians) of Chief HR Officer in November 2014. She has worked at the company since 2008 and is responsible for reward and benefits strategy, training and development, employee engagement and recruitment and retention. HRReview spoke to her about the gender pay gap and the recent government attempts to solve the problem.
It is quite surprising, wouldn’t you say, that in an age of racial and sexual equality there is still a gap between the amount of money men and women are paid?
I think it is surprising, yes. At the outset of careers, it is not as big, but as careers progress the gap starts to grow. At entry level there is more equality and women are better represented, but as you go higher up an organisation, this does not continue and that is the thing that I think is surprising.
Do you think the government plan to compel companies of a particular size to release employee pay rates in an attempt to lessen the gender pay gap is a good idea?
I do think that it’s a great idea and I think it will help to move things on. Companies will have to report not only on pay, but also on diversity and the male to female ratio within a company. We can’t really go about solving a problem until we have a full picture of it and this scheme will give us the information we need. This will help companies see what their female talent programme looks like and they will then be able to identify at which pay level the discrepancies are starting to kick in.
So the pay gap in the early stages of a career will not be as bad as later on, when you are at a more advanced level?
The pay gap certainly seems to get bigger as people progress with their careers.
Why do you think that is though? Is it because you think women are still much less likely to reach the higher echelons of a company?
From the research that we carried out through AAT, there are a number of exceptions. There is still something of a ‘boys club’ at senior level in some companies and this prevents female progression, also people talked about women still having the lion’s share of things to do in terms of childcare and that is another reason that is slowing progression of women into senior roles. Finally, many women do not have access to the same networks and connections that men have, as they are often dominated by ‘old boy’s networks’.
It is going to be very difficult for government to dismantle these networks isn’t it? After all the government itself is one big ‘old boy’s network’, some would argue.
If we can understand the extent of the problem, then there are more proactive things that can be done to address those issues, but at the moment, we don’t know exactly when they start creeping in and therefore there is not much that we can do without it.
One of the things that we found is that men are a lot more bullish about asking for salary increases and as a result often get them. I think that people who are deciding pay rates are aware of that and can factor that in, so they are not just giving people pay increases, but are looking across the board, to treat the company as a whole rather than treating people on an ad hoc, individual, basis.
Do you think that women are doing enough shouting about their own achievements in the office in order to gain pay rises?
I think it is happening more to an extent, but I think there is a lot to be done around raising women’s confidence levels. Women have to feel valued and feel that they can ask for those pay rises. A lot of this will depend upon the culture in which they work.
What about in the arena where you work, in accounting, what is the culture like there?
At AAT we have slightly more women than men working at our organisation and we have a very nice culture to work in here. There is gender balance across the different levels of the company and we are in favour of flexible working, which is of great benefit to women with children.
Do you think the corporate world can do more to help women progress with their careers?
I think the light that is now being shone on the gender pay gap may prompt them to start to do more. If companies are losing women at a certain point in their career and they are not looking at flexible working options, then they are missing a route that will start to change things quite quickly. I think the government have done quite a lot in terms of legislation but organisations now need to start realising that women can add a lot to business.
Some new research that has recently been released by the IMF says that one additional woman on a senior management or corporate board was associated with a three to eight percent higher return on asset. This is research that was drawn together from two million firms in thirty-four European countries, so it’s a very big sample. The government have led the way on the issue but now it is up to individual firms to do the hard work.
Can you predict how long it will take for the gender pay gap to close?
I would hope that because organisations are now going to have to publish pay levels, there will be more pressure on them to address the problem far more quickly than that, but time will tell. I think if decision makers are held to account by public perception then we might see a big change within the next twenty years.