Blog Img

The Gender Pay Gap – Looking Beyond the Figures

Back to Blogs

Last week over thirteen thousand companies and public sector organisations filed and reported their pay gap. The result was a wage disparity of 18.4% above the national medium.

Clearly, more needs to be done to ensure gender equality in the workplace but if we focus on these figures in isolation, we’re only scratching the surface.

Why the Gap?

Ryanair reported a staggering 71.8% pay gap, the highest figure from the airline industry. The BBC pointed out that: “Just eight of Ryanair’s 554 highly-paid pilots are women, while more than two-thirds of the lower-paid cabin crew is female.”

The issue here isn’t that Ryanair is purposely underpaying its female staff. It’s that there are more men in highly-paid roles than women.

Gender pay gap reporting is an opportunity to reflect on the status of workplace equality. But we should be looking at the unconsciously discriminative decisions we make in the workplace – choices that are discouraging women from moving up the ladder or pursuing a ‘masculine’ role (or men choosing a more ‘feminine’ position) – to address the problem.

Supporting Parents

A lot of new mothers don’t return to work after taking maternity leave because of childcare barriers. Consequently, fewer women are in employment long enough to move up the ladder – meaning more senior roles go to men.

Certain companies are addressing this problem to reduce female staff turnover. Vodafone employees gain: “16 weeks’ fully paid maternity leave and full pay for working a reduced 30-hour week for the first six months after returning to work.” Karina Govindji, Group Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Vodafone recently justified the generous policy:

“Our phased transition means women do not have to make a financial sacrifice to get through that transition period. We think that is a cost worth incurring.”

Outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia also believes that fathers should be entitled to longer paternity leave, meaning they can support their families better. This has substantially improved their female turnover as Jenny Anderson of Quartz at Work highlights:

“100% of the women who have had children at Patagonia over the past five years have returned to work, significantly higher than the 79% average in the US.”

By supporting new parents with longer leave and flexible return-to-work options, companies can help and convince more women to continue their careers and take up a larger proportion of senior roles. 

Feedback: No More Gender Bias

The last thing you want from a work performance review is subjective, negative feedback. However it does seem that women in the workplace are more likely to experience this treatment than men.

Harvard Business Review contributor Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio recently analysed the content of individual performance reviews. She revealed gender bias during appraisals leading to double standards:

“The reviewer highlighted the woman’s “analysis paralysis,” while the same behavior in a male colleague was seen as careful thoughtfulness.”

Biased perceptions are inhibiting women from reaping the rewards men gain for the same level of performance. Improving performance management systems will open the door for many women who want to flourish in their careers.

Increasing accountability in performance evaluations is a great place to start. Establishing criteria to be used across all relevant reviews and having a third-party in place to oversee the process will create a fairer system.

Companies should also consider upping the frequency of reviews for more accurate observations. Plus by using digital tools that eradicate bias from answers, every employee can gain impartial and constructive feedback to grow from.

Solve the Problem at Its Source

If we can teach and adopt ways to recruit without bias, we can disrupt the status quo on diversity and gender inequality in business.

Equal opportunities should be the foundation of recruitment. We should be basing our hiring choices on the best candidates available regardless of age, race or gender. By embracing diversity, companies can develop attractive cultures as Heather Huhman – founder of PR firm Come Recommended – explains:

“Diversity is important in the workplace because it builds a company with a unique dynamic and a strong ability to adapt. It can also result in creative solutions for problems, and in increased productivity.”

This approach should begin with creating job descriptions. If a senior role has typically been filled by a man the advert might need updating to appeal more to women (and vice versa for men). Business in the Community supports these changes:

“A good example is a security officer’s role; when it is advertised, it is important to diversity proof the job description to ensure that it does not discourage female candidates from applying.”

Continually reviewing our recruitment processes to identify gender or any other discrepancies will ensure equal opportunities for candidates. Aligning recruitment choices with a company’s core values will strengthen teams and buck discrimination habits during the hiring process.

Rather than using Gender Pay Gap reporting to point fingers at companies with the worst pay gap figures, we should instead focus on embracing diversity and gender equality across all business processes and policies. After all:

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” – Stephen Covey