I often speak about how to support women in the workplace to achieve their ambitions and the discussions tend to focus on what they can do to get ahead. But that’s only half the story. It’s a two-way process and the organisations they work for also need to clear away barriers and build in the support structures needed for women to be successful, thrive and secure roles on the executive team or on the Board.
One of those barriers, which is seemingly immovable, despite equal pay legislation being in place for over 40 years, is the gender pay gap. There are many reasons for the continuing disparity and several key areas businesses can address to reduce the gap and improve gender balance in the workforce as a whole.
Levelling the Playing Field
One of my favourite podcasts from our Diversity Toolkit series is with the former Managing Partner of PWC. He speaks about what the firm does to increase the number of women making it to Partner. PWC has applied a number of interventions including:
- Interview training for all of their managers – it never ceases to surprise me that so few people are trained to conduct this important task professionally
- Women are assigned mentors so that they have a go to place to discuss challenges along the journey
- They encourage clarity so that everyone is clear about needs and expectations on all sides
- Before each panel interview, the rules of engagement are read out so that the interviewers are mindful of their own biases and candidates are encouraged to sell themselves in a way that is natural to them, highlighting the skills they can add to your talent pool
Having recruited predominantly men into senior roles for over 20 years I can honestly say most of the time it was a straightforward process to get a full career history, often with some embellishment, in 30 minutes. A woman however is much harder to crack. I have lost count of the number of women who leave it until at least 40 minutes into the conversation to tell me something that is amazing that they have achieved and it isn’t even on their CV!
The lesson being you can’t always use the same approach at interview or with your employees. How you communicate is key and knowing what they need and what is important to them is crucial.
Transparency is crucial to closing the gender pay gap. The new legislation will help but it’s not compulsory until 2018 and the more interesting statistics will be the comparative ones in 2019. However, the very nature of determining salary around job titles and all of the other criteria used such as previous salary and years of experience will continue to exacerbate the problem.
Only full transparency and commitment to addressing it will bring this into the open and lead to change. It may take time to change things but the reality is, there really is no excuse if two individuals who are doing the same job are paid differently because of their gender. Employers who choose to ignore the issue risk doing so at their peril. Readily available information will help inform career choices and it is likely the Millennials rising through the ranks will vote with their feet, leaving a hole in the talent pipeline in those organisations.
Unconscious, Conscious & Privilege Bias
Bias plays a huge role in all of this, whether it’s conscious, unconscious or from a privilege vantage point. We all have them, that’s the nature of the beast, but becoming aware and more mindful of them is key to changing your whole approach and probable response to addressing the lack of women at the top and the pay gap.
The former Chair of Hogan Lovells gave a great example of his light bulb moment in our podcast on unconscious bias. He tells the story of a very competent junior female lawyer who he presumed didn’t have the ambition to rise to partner as she hadn’t discussed it with him unlike many of her male peers. He was very surprised to learn that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
It dawned on him that men and women may be equally ambitious but have very different approaches. If one individual is knocking on your door and asking for help and guidance and another is doing outstanding work waiting to be recognised but not communicating their aspirations, it is natural to gravitate to the first individual. This led to a fundamental change in the firm’s appraisals and promotions practices, particularly at middle management level.
It stands to reason the same can be said about pay. Very often those who make the most noise about themselves get the best deal, though they may not necessarily be your best asset. Just as it is important for women to speak out, organisations cannot afford to ignore or neglect established members of staff or those whose contribution is important but who don’t necessarily shout about it. One day these important individuals will find their worth and you will find they will no longer be there. Furthermore experience showed me when placing men, they always negotiate salary and the rewards package, whereas the women tend not to, but this does not mean they shouldn’t be paid the same as a male peer!
Privilege bias is not as widely discussed but also has a key role in the gender pay gap. I always use the example of having English as your first language if you work in a multi-national firm. When you sit in a meeting which is conducted in English you are in a privileged position as opposed to a peer for whom it is their second language, even if they speak it well. If you have never experienced it, you won’t know any different! The same as being paid less for doing the same job as your male peer. If it has never happened to you, you probably won’t even think about it, or feel the need to address the issue.
Reworking the Recruitment Process
Finally, making your recruitment process as gender neutral and as inclusive as possible will help. It’s so often here where the gap begins.
Does it really matter how much sector experience someone has? What skills do you need in the team and how valuable are they to you? Ask yourself why soft skills, which are often the hardest to learn, and often associated more with women, are deemed to be less important and soft (they certainly aren’t) and yet are crucial to make teams work.
Think about the questions you ask and what behaviour they promote. Getting the job is a competitive process with one winner, there is little need for collaboration, intuition or teamwork in the traditional process, but these things are crucial day to day.
What language do you use in your job posts? Do you have accessible and visible female role models in the process? How do you avoid people recruiting ‘mini me’s’ they instinctively feel comfortable with and may perpetuate certain behaviours?
It is also important to challenge your external recruiters bias in terms of how they rate people, what criteria or internal yardsticks do they use and are they aligned with your culture.
Whilst the statistics will likely tell us that most organisations have a gender pay gap, the real test will be the actions they take to address it and how well these improve the gender gap overall. I have no doubt that communication, transparency and an overhaul of recruitment processes must be central to this for any strategy to be successful.
Carol Rosati OBE joined Chemistry in June 2017 to lead Chemical Connections and build a community of like-minded individuals committed to giving everyone the opportunity to be brilliant at work. She works with many organisations to promote diversity of thought and better-balanced teams, using her accumulated knowledge to create diverse workforces and inclusive cultures. She was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 2015 Birthday New Honours List for Services to Women in Business and included in the Global Top 50 D&I professionals list in 2016.