Q&A: The Gender Pay Gap

Last week, it was revealed that only a third of the BBC’s 96 top earners are women – and the top 7 are all men. After another stark reminder that the gender pay gap simply isn’t going anywhere fast, despite equal pay legislation being in place for over 40 years, we asked Chemistry’s resident Diversity & Inclusion experts and advocates what their latest thoughts are on the issue. Here’s what Carol Rosati, Managing Partner of Chemical Connections, who was awarded an OBE in 2015 for Services to Women in Business, and Alasdair Scott, Chemistry’s Head of Inclusion & Wellbeing, had to say…

The dust has settled on last week’s BBC gender pay gap revelations. What are you thinking?

CR: It’s already clear that most organisations will have a gender pay gap. What I’ll be interested to see, in the coming weeks and months, is the commentary that will accompany last week’s statistics. How will businesses explain their gap and what will they do to reduce it? This will give us more insight into how seriously it’s being taken.

AS: Now that my initial feelings of outrage have subsided, I’m really intrigued by the BBC’s various lines of defence so far. Firstly, they were quick to point out that the current gap was significantly smaller than what it was a couple of years ago; so the highest-paid female’s salary being less than a fifth of the top-earning male’s is progress! Secondly, the BBC’s finger of blame was firmly pointed at the marketplace they’re in and wishing to remain competitive. Sure, they want to keep their top stars, but by the looks of things this market is hyper-inflated towards men (aren’t they all?), which I think is poor defence by an organisation where half of their funding comes from license-fee paying women.

What do you understand to be the reasons for the gender pay gap at the BBC and elsewhere?

CR: There are many reasons for the gap, though some are more easily fixable than others. The ones I hear most often are that it’s difficult to recruit women into traditionally male-dominated sectors; that career breaks or part-time work have a negative effect on career progression; and that part-time work is often lower-paid and more junior, further exacerbating the problem.

What next for the gender pay gap?

AS: I fully expect that when more organisations publish their pay gaps next year that we’ll see just as big a gulf with similarly thin defences.

CR: The figures in the years to come will be very telling indeed. Only then will we be able to see if legislation, or even peer pressure and brand preservation, are closing the gap for good…

AS: But even if legislation, peer pressure and brand preservation turn out to have a positive effect, it will still feel frustrating – a reactionary effort to gloss over a problem. I would love to hear from the proactive and enlightened organisations who have been silently and assuredly equalising pay for years. 

What steps can organisations take to shift their own pay gaps?

AS: It’s easy to make a quick shift in pay. It’s a whole different story if you’ve also been moving the goal posts for the greater good. I’d love to see the BBC and other organisations tackle this at the root cause though:

  • Committing to proportional hiring and promotion strategies
  • Working closely with schools and colleges to open up access routes for women into their organisations
  • Celebrating female role models in senior positions and pushing their stories
  • Creating flexible working culture where women can maintain their progression and pay trajectory despite choosing to have a family
  • Educating men in the organisation on how to give up some their pie to ensure their female colleagues get at least a bigger slice, whilst reassuring them that they will maintain their ‘influence’

CR: There are many reasons for the continuing disparity and several key business areas that organisations could address to reduce the gap – not to mention improve gender balance in their workforce as a whole. In my recent Chemistry blog, I outlined the following Four Ways Companies Can Start To Reduce Their Gender Pay Gap:

  • Recognising that a different approach may be needed when interviewing men and women, or communicating with them as employees, and working on ways to level that playing field
  • Transparency is key – only full transparency and continuing commitment to addressing it will bring this issue into the open and lead to change
  • Becoming aware and more mindful of biases (whether they’re conscious, unconscious or from a vantage point of privilege) is key to changing your whole approach and probable response to addressing the pay gap (and the lack of women at the top)
  • Making your recruitment process as gender neutral and as inclusive as possible will help because that’s so often where the gap begins

Jul, 25, 2017