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How UK organisations are addressing the gender pay gap

People & Leadership

How UK organisations are addressing the gender pay gap

What’s your gender pay gap?

In the UK, the federal government has taken a proactive approach to closing the gender pay gap. If an organisation has more than 250 employees, its gender pay gap must be published externally on the UK government’s website and its own.

For UK companies, it not only means a new requirement to publish their gender pay gap each year, but also a new way of thinking about how to market themselves to prospects and employees.

Smart companies who fare well in their gender pay gaps can use this as leverage to pitch for top talent.

So, now companies up and down the UK have reported their gender pay gap for the first time, what can we learn from what was published?

We break down five things we learnt from gender pay gap reporting for the first time in 2018.

1. Be clear, upfront and proactive with your employees

First and foremost, your employees are your number one stakeholder when it comes to your gender pay gap.

Explain why there is a gender pay gap in your company. Is it because there are more men than women, is it because there are more men in leadership positions, is it because men negotiate larger bonuses?

Explain what you are going to do to fix it. Will you bring the payments in line with each other, will you implement leadership training for the women in your organisation, will you eliminate gender bias in your recruitment process?

Wherever your company’s gender pay gap figures fall on the spectrum, your employees will want to know what you are doing to breed a more fair and equal culture in the workplace. They are your most valuable assets. Not communicating is a huge disservice to them.

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2. Communicate externally as well as internally

Lesson number one – large companies need to be proactive, regardless of what their gender pay gap is.

If your gender pay gap is good news, then great – it’s something to talk positively about externally. It also means you’re a leader on this, so you’ll want to highlight your gender pay gap as a differentiator to set you apart from other employers and attract top talent.

If you still have work to do, then you need to explain how you’ll achieve this.

For example, Unilever issued a press release explaining how they will proactively close the gender pay gap, providing targets and timelines.

It makes sense for large multi-national companies to take the front foot, as industry journalists and bloggers will follow these global companies and pay close attention to their gender pay gap reporting.

At the very least, most companies have published their gender pay gap results online with a statement to explain why there is a gap and how they plan to close it.

If you’re a smaller company closer to 250 employees and are not in the public eye then it may be more suitable for you to take this approach, preparing reactive statements and FAQs in case you are approached by the media or are thrust into the public eye.

3. Be honest

This one is a no-brainer. Be honest about your figures and why you have a gender pay gap. Do not try to spin them.

The extent to which you explain how you will fix the problem is also a factor for consideration. You may wish to outline exactly what you will do, but if you have not perfected this yet, then you should strongly indicate that you are committed to solving the imbalance.

For example, McKinsey & Co, a worldwide managing consulting firm with 28,000 employees, published a statement on its website saying that it is committed to making significant progress by 2020—reaching a target of 40% female consultants, including 30% female partners and 15% female senior partners.

The Grosvenor group, a real estate firm with just under 600 employees, makes a strong commitment to changing the imbalance through training, eliminating bias from the recruitment process and other programs.

Although the businesses have chosen to report in different ways, they have both successfully communicated a plausible course of action.

Overpromising action and not delivering it can be as damaging as not doing anything at all, so be realistic in what you can do and what you are ready to communicate.

4. Keep shaping your story to show progress

It is tough to explain large disparities in pay, which is why it is important to keep the lines of communication with your employee open.

Your communications should not end at the reporting stage. It is important to continue telling your story and communicate how you are promoting women in the workforce by promoting good news stories internally and externally.

For example, Easy Jet continues to publish stories celebrating women well beyond publication of its gender pay report.

5. Contain the fall out

If you do experience negative responses from your employees or external parties, it is important to keep communicating to them and show how you are making real progress.

Following an internal meeting at UK TV network ITN, where the workforce was told that men are paid 19.6% more than women (equating to almost double the pay gap at the BBC) and 77% more in bonuses, news presenter, Cathy Newman (an ITN employee) went public airing her views on Twitter.

ITN  issued a statement saying it would do more to encourage women into senior positions and halve the pay gap in five years.

John Hardie has since publicly stated that he will not take a bonus until he has hit the gender pay gap targets.

Different approaches to communicating

There may be different approaches to communicating your gender pay gap, and what is right for your company will depend on your gender pay gap results, your company profile and your internal and external stakeholders.

However, by now, you will have realised that doing nothing alongside simply publishing the figures is not really an option. By saying nothing to your employees, you are indicating that equality is not important to your business. This could be devastating in terms of engagement and retention as well as recruitment.

Even if your gender pay gap is small, it is important to show your employees that you are doing everything to close it.

What we learnt: the dos and don’ts of communicating the gender pay gap

Do drive down into your data and understand it fully. Only in this way can you answer questions from your workforce and external audiences credibly.

Do own the issue and develop a clear plan to improve the situation to close the gap.

Do make it an organisation effort. Unite your employees behind this issue to make the workplace better for everyone.

Do communicate honestly and clearly. If you don’t shape your own narrative, then angry employees, critical journalists and other employers competing for your talent, will.

Do keep the lines of communication open. Monitor employees’ sentiment on the issue and report progress at each milestone.

Don’t bury your head in the sand. Doing nothing could be very damaging for your reputation internally and externally.

Don’t try to spin or sugar coat your gender gap figures. They are what they are and being disingenuous will only damage your reputation internally and externally.

Don’t be defensive or evasive in your communications. Denying there is a problem will only lead to distrust amongst your employees and external audiences.

Don’t overpromise on how you will close the gap. Put in place achievable steps and be realistic in terms of timescales. If you are not ready to communicate your plans fully, you should at the very least, communicate a real commitment to closing the gap.

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Seismic shifts in the way organisations operate, work, and manage their people are occurring. We surveyed 500+ HR leaders to discover how they are responding.

Uncover insights on how to stay ahead and transform HR from a process focused function to a people driven business.

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