Gender pay gap – or gender pain gain?

How publishing gender pay gap data could be the best thing for your business.

A few months ago I wrote an article for CEO Today on whether it is the law to be diverse and inclusive. I said the answer is ‘yes’ and increasingly so.

Gender pay gap reporting is the current example of how legal requirements are pressuring businesses to address diversity and inclusion.

It is only applicable in the UK, though Ireland, Germany and France are also considering introducing similar reporting.

There is also currently no penalty for publishing data that reveals inequalities.

With a reporting deadline of 4 April looming, about a quarter of all organisations with more than 250 employees in the UK have uploaded their figures to the government web site.

The media is watching the data closely and picking out the worst offenders.

As a result of these attentions, gender pay gap reporting is creating an uncomfortable situation for boards, as they confront the reality that, despite all their efforts to increase opportunities for women, the best rewarded people in their organisation are still largely male.

The risk in this situation is that leadership focuses so intently on working on narratives that might serve to ‘spin’ the problem away, that they don’t listen to the lessons of data.

Data is so useful! The majority of diversity and inclusion programmes start with research and analysis.

So, while the requirement to make gender pay gap data public is uncomfortable, there is no doubt that it can help enormously in enabling organisations to rethink their gender programmes so they are truly effective.

The journey of any organisation towards greater diversity and inclusion starts with the recognition that exclusions and discrimination exist, usually by analysing data, followed by a heartfelt determination to bring about change, usually from the CEO.

While companies may feel uncomfortable admitting that their business pays women less than men, I would exhort every company to use this as an opportunity to have a plan for closing the gender pay gap right now, for commercial reasons.

It is an understatement to say that any company that publishes an increased gender pay gap when the revised figures are due in 2019 will be in something of a difficult situation.

Organisations that tender for public contracts, in particular, may find that gender pay gap data becomes a requirement in future RFPs.

So make sure you act now to lower your gender pay gap.

The solutions do not need to be complicated, though they will require commitment.

For example, focus on developing female employees and encourage them to seek promotion.

Encourage more women to work for you by highlighting policies that will help them to balance a career with the likelihood that at some point, they will wish to start a family.

Review the structure and demands of senior roles to make them friendly to those who need to juggle family priorities. Organisations are starting to demonstrate that it is possible to have a CEO that works part time or virtually, or to have two people who share the role. Be open to new paradigms that make it easier for women to apply and make a success of those senior roles.

Tailor your efforts to appeal to women who are returning to work. This is a highly skilled group that is often overlooked by companies that focus too narrowly on recent experience. Women returning from maternity leave or a career break often accept more junior positions at a lower salary because companies have concerns about their ability to deliver. The result is the gender pay gap keeps widening.

Be mindful of how you treat your suppliers and their female employees. Set your expectations at a level that is consistent with human as well as commercial needs so you become a truly inclusive ‘corporate citizen’ within your value chain.

Stamp on all behaviour that excludes, marginalises or belittles women who work part time or flexibly. Encourage women to speak out if they are ever made to feel uncomfortable because they work in a way that is consistent with their family commitments.

Above all, leaders, walk the talk, especially if you are male. Men are also parents. Take time out to watch the nativity play. Work from home when your baby is sick and can’t go to childcare. Leave on time so you can be there to play with them and tuck them into bed.

They say it takes a little grit and irritation for an oyster to create a pearl, and this is a useful metaphor here.

Gender pay gap reporting is undoubtedly an irritant for many businesses. Yet it could lead to greater equality and access to female talent, which has been demonstrated to have significant business benefit.

MCSI recently found that gender-diverse companies are more productive, as an example.

As they say, no pain, no gain. Let’s get through gender pay gap reporting, and when we’re out the other side, let’s do something about it, so that we can all make our businesses better places for everyone.

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