Earlier this month, I took to the stage in the Library room at Shoreditch House in London as part of a panel event to discuss the gender pay gap. Behind me, a large screen showed a near life size (or so it felt) picture of Beyoncé, in a bikini, covered in money and bearing the caption:
“When will women be paid the same as men for the same work?”
The panel was moderated by writer and producer Deborah Coughlin and with me on stage were Hannah Swerling from ELLE magazine and Reni Eddo-Lodge, a freelance journalist currently working on her first book about politics and race.
Deborah took us through an overview of the facts and figures and then led a discussion around not only the impact of the current gender pay gap, but also around the broader issues surrounding women at work in 2015: do we need to change or does the world of work? Should we be Leaning In? Are quotas a good thing or a bad thing?
Hannah talked about ELLE’s campaigns to be part of a new wave and re-branding of feminism (including supporting next month’s launch of the film “Suffragette”); Reni (who is in favour of quotas and who spoke really compellingly and with great verve and passion about the positive impact that they can have on the careers of women of colour) put out a great plea for the working environment to shift in order to accommodate a 21st century workforce; and I talked about the more formal, office based workplaces in which I’ve spent most of my career and the challenges that women can face at different points of their lives, including my view that the gender pay gap isn’t just about career breaks and child raising but also – and perhaps more so – about an embedded and systemic belief as to the value of work that is rooted in gender based roles.
A couple of the other points that I raised included:
- The need for transparency: only 270 of the 7000 UK companies which employ 250+ staff have so far done a gender pay audit – and only FIVE of those have published their results. So we need to lift a few more rocks and see what crawls out.
- Reducing the pay gap: isn’t just about having more women at the top – it’s also about having more men at the bottom, ie achieving a more even distribution of men and women across the pay scale.
- Lying can be useful: in the context of the practice known as “anchoring”, by which I refer to the cognitive bias that makes people focus On A Number once it’s been stated, leaving only a small space for other, higher numbers to come into play. Imagine discussing your salary of five years ago in a job interview; then try and get That Figure out of play. Aren’t you sorry you mentioned it?
Like a lot of people who spend time in the diversity space, I’m familiar with the event based trope of women stating that Something is Bad and other women in the audience agreeing that yes, It is Bad. I wanted to offer up a few solutions for practical actions, so here’s what I suggested as takeaways for anyone who wants to personally challenge and close up the gender pay gap:
- Know your own worth: research the hell out of your market sector (whether freelance or employed), find out market values and hold your ground when in pay based negotiations.
- Remind yourself: that men are apparently FOUR TIMES more likely than women to ask for a pay rise or negotiate a higher starting salary or signing on bonus. Consider your actions and think about challenging that number. Ask.
- If the above two points feel really uncomfortable as ideas for you: consider working with a coach on negotiation skills, confidence building or whatever else might make you feel more inclined to haggle and get paid what you’re truly worth. Regard the cost of the coaching fees as a major investment in Team You – you should easily earn back the costs over time.
And, if we’re talking about changing the culture of the workplace, here are a few ideas that I’d like to see companies/employers taking on board as part of their efforts to close the gender pay gap and build a more balanced workforce:
- Consider bias awareness training for your recruiters and hiring managers: to both stop them asking inappropriate questions (yes, it still happens, notwithstanding the law) and to change their focus away from previous salaries and the values that may be placed on gender based skills, attributes and employment;
- Commit to closing the gender pay gap in your company: embed this as a leadership objective, with actions, a timeline and penalties for lack of progress;
- Look at the bonus culture in your company: much of the 24% pay gap between men and women in finance is rooted in the discretionary pay model; for instance, a Big 4 accounting firm is on record as giving some of the senior men who don’t make Partner a consolation bonus to stop them leaving; most equally unlucky women there don’t apparently consider leaving at this point and so don’t ask for or get a golden “aw, shucks, we love you really” bonus.
I had a really great time at the event, loved taking the questions from the audience (as long time readers know, I can talk about this stuff all day and all night long) and meeting people afterwards – a process that is still ongoing, as I have several future meetings set up, including one to have coffee with the man behind the Token Man Twitter handle, who asked why there wasn’t a man on the panel? A very fair and valid question and one to be somewhat addressed in a future post, which will be on the very ‘now’ topic of engaging men as diversity champions. As I said whilst on stage:
“No minority group in history ever achieved major, systemic change without the help and support of the majority group.”