Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Where is leadership in the gender pay gap debate?

So, as of midnight on 4 April 2018 companies with over 250 employees have had to report on their gender pay gap.  It’s a milestone achievement to officially recognise that there is a gender pay gap, even though there are many who swear there is no such thing.  And the vitriol from those who think it’s a feminist generated plot to undermine men’s roles in society is astounding.

What’s interesting is the breakdown displayed so far.  RyanAir report the highest GPG at 71.8%, saying that it’s because pilots are the best paid (male dominated) and women make up the majority of the lower paid roles.  Conversely certain High Street brands report no difference, whilst 8% of those who have declared so far, report they pay women more.  The GPG in reverse as it were.

There’s also a clear sector differential with the highest gap being in the construction industry, closely followed by finance and insurance.  Yes these are traditionally male dominated industries but education, which is frequently declared to be a profession that attracts more females, is running a close fourth. 

Where then is the source of the issue and thus the source of the solution?

Stereotypes reinforce sector differentials
Of course it’s more complex than just one issue and one solution.  Parents, society, education, the media all have a role to play in challenging stereotypes and the sector differentials by encouraging girls to enter STEM whilst boys can make good careers within social care.

But can they?  Can either poles be truly equal?  Not currently because society puts different values against each option with unconscious biases regarding the skills and qualities required, labelling them as either male or female.  The reality is that we can all learn the skills and qualities – it takes an effort on the part of the industries themselves to change things.   And an effort it will be if this issue is to be fully addressed.  For what’s the point in reporting it if no action is going to be taken to change?

And then we have the huge bulk of businesses who employ less than 250 people.  Are they equally cognisant of the issue?  Are they recognising and, importantly, dealing with it?  They won't be immune from the fall out as customers and employees may well start to question them on pay differentials.  Certainly if they're part of a larger supply chain in government contracts they may well have to prove their credentials on this issue. 

A moral hysteria?
There are those who think it’s a flash in the pan, the latest moral hysteria that sweeps societies periodically.  Give it six months or so and things will quieten down.  There’ll be no penalties issued for those who do not report, no backlash if things don’t improve. 

Yes, things will quieten down and yes, there will be some who do not report and some who do nothing …  BUT

I sense a paradigm shift here.  There is a new wave of feminism driving this.  Not the hawkish, demanding feminism (or so it seems to be described now) of the 60s and 70s.  No, this is a quieter, more assured, socially, societally grounded feminism that recognises true equality between men and women.   And now it’s being accepted that it’s OK in the UK to talk about pay, about what you earn.   The more it is described within the media and the boardroom, over the water cooler and the sports fields, the more women, and men, will demand it.  That demand can only be fulfilled by the industries themselves.

Leaders must embrace a new paradigm
It takes excellent leadership to redirect the habits and practices within industries, to reshape the cultures and those unconscious biases mentioned earlier.  It takes leadership to take an organisation in a new direction and deal with the flack that always comes as a result of change. 

Some leaders have already recognised this and are actively making a difference.  Do you consider yourselves to be amongst them?  Would others agree with you or would they think you’re complacent or complicit?  Do you recognise leadership within your industry or community and if so are they supported?  Or are they bashing their heads against a brick wall? 

Leaders today have a decision to make.   They will decide whether to embrace the new paradigm and get the support to do so, or they will decide to wait and see.  The ‘wait and see’ brigade may well end up the ‘wait and decline’ squad as its workforce, and customers, gravitate to those who are fessing up and actively changing.  They will be the ones who have acknowledged the under-utilisation of 50% of the population as industry differentials are challenged.  It won’t be easy – leadership was ever thus – but it can be done. 

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