CGP 9 | Imposter Syndrome

The Impacts Of Imposter Syndrome On The Gender Pay Gap And What To Do About It With Clare Josa

Imposter Syndrome is already an issue for leaders, but the stigma imposed by gender only amplifies it. This can manifest itself in your organization in many ways, one of which is through the gender pay gap. Today, joining your host Sherry Bevan is the leading authority on Imposter Syndrome in the UK, Clare Josa. She speaks on her landmark research study about Imposter Syndrome to clearly define the phenomena and its impacts on the gender pay gap. She also discusses concrete examples of how it affects employees and leaders in the workplace. Plus, Clare shares tips for companies on how to be more proactive in dealing with Imposter Syndrome to promote an equitable workplace and empower its workforce. Tune in to this insightful discussion to learn more!

Listen to the podcast here:

The Impacts Of Imposter Syndrome On The Gender Pay Gap And What To Do About It With Clare Josa

I’m excited, because in this episode we’re exploring how the imposter syndrome affects your gender pay gap. I’m delighted to be talking to Clare Josa. She is the UK‘s leading authority on imposter syndrome. She’s the author of eight books and an expert in the neuroscience and psychology of performance. Her original training as an engineer specializing in Six Sigma and Lean manufacturing means her inspirational approach is grounded in practical common sense, creating breakthroughs, not burnout. Naturally, we’re going to be talking about imposter syndrome and I hope you get something valuable from this to help you close your gender pay gap. Clare, welcome. Thank you so much for joining me.

Thank you so much for having me on the show, Sherry.

I’m delighted to have got you on because you’ve got so much experience but I’ve thought for those people reading, who maybe don’t know what we’re talking about when we refer to the imposter syndrome, perhaps you could start by giving us your definition of what it means.

Imposter syndrome is the secret fear that people are going to find out that we’re not good enough, that we’re faking it, that they made a mistake hiring us, that we don’t belong. It’s something that keeps us awake at 3:00 in the morning. I often define it with my clients, my students and my readers as the secret fear of others judging us, the way we’re judging ourselves. It’s different to self-doubt. What we found in the 2019 imposter syndrome research study is self-doubt is about what we can and can’t do. It’s about confidence, skills, and capabilities. Imposter syndrome is about who we think we are. It’s down there at the identity level, much deeper. Somebody running self-doubt might think, “I messed up that presentation.” If you’re running imposter syndrome as well, you’ll think, “What if they find out I’m not good enough?”

It’s that difference between who you are and what you think about yourself, your confidence in your skills and your experience.

I talk about the imposter syndrome gap as being the gap between who we see ourselves as being and who we think we need to be to do, achieve something or step up for a goal because sometimes we can run. That’s the self-sabotage of imposter syndrome kicking in. Sometimes we can’t. We build over that gap, what I call the bridge of coping strategies. How will I succeed despite imposter syndrome? It takes huge amounts of energy. It causes anxiety. It means that we’re hypervigilant, that’s fight-flight-freeze response is constantly engaged, looking for threats. We can cope most of the time but if something major comes up like pandemic, working remotely from home whilst juggling educating children or having to handle being the only one in the office when everybody else is remote. This thing can mean the previous dormant imposter syndrome comes out to play with gusto.

What led you to become an expert in this area?

I started out in Mechanical Engineering. My Master’s degree was in Mechanical Engineering. In Germany, you don’t get much more left-brain than that but I’d always been passionate about how people ticked. After fifteen years in engineering, I studied to become an NLP trainer. I moved to become the head of market research at one of the world’s most disruptive brands, which was great. That was the link between the engineers, the marketing team and the customers. It’s like a three-way translator. There came a point where I was studying more about how to help people change their lives, how to help them to help themselves. Looking at what I knew from Six Sigma about how to take the fluff out of those processes and make them more reliable and concrete. Back in 2003, I left, set up my own business. One of the things I was doing back then was executive mentoring.

Imposter syndrome is the secret fear of others judging us the way we’re judging ourselves.

My first client had this weird thing. They were confident. Everybody thought they had the act together and it was 3:00 the morning they were dying inside. My next client and then my next client and it got me researching what is going on. The coaching skills I’ve learned weren’t touching it. I needed something deeper. That was several years ago. The rest is they say is history. I have spent the last several years specializing in the imposter syndrome work that classic tools don’t touch.

We talked about what the imposter syndrome is but what we haven’t talked about is who experiences it. Who has it?

Everyone. There’s no it’s men, it’s women. There’s no you’re old, you’re young. We found in the 2019 research study that 52% of female respondents had struggled with it daily or regularly in 2020 alone, to an extent that it impacted their work and their home life. The figure for men was 49%. Pretty much the same. The difference was how they handled it. Women were twenty times more likely than men to go and talk to someone to ask for help. Men were five times more likely than women to turn to alcohol, drugs and medication to push on through. The other huge thing and this is relevant to the gender pay gap, the male respondents tended to do that feel the fear and do it anyway thing. Pushing it down, pushing on through, “I’m terrified. It’s causing me anxiety. I’m drinking too much but I’m going for that promotion anyway.”

They would get to that stage. When they got promoted, very often, the job title gave them the external validation they needed to mean that they could settle into it. What we found with the female respondents is they would hold back stepping up. They would even volunteer other people if they got the tap on the shoulder to go for the next role. Thirty-seven percent in 2020 alone had not asked for a pay raise they knew they deserved as a result of imposter syndrome.

Sixty percent we found were routinely not taking credit for what they’d achieved, even doing that classic, “I had but,” if they were praised volunteering self-criticism, meaning that they want not to top of mind for those promotions and opportunities. They were not letting their light shine because, for them, the emotional side of imposter syndrome was simply strong. It held them back. It caused them to subconsciously self-sabotage rather than step up to the next level and pushing on through it for them was much less of an option.

I was about to ask, what did your research tell us about how imposter syndrome affects the gender pay gap? You answered it succinctly there but what more does your research tell us about the imposter syndrome and the gender pay gap and how it has an impact?

We found that there were three hidden drivers of the gender pay gap, which most organizations aren’t aware of, they can’t address. One of them was the alpha male competitive culture at the most senior levels in too many organizations still. There comes to a point where if a woman gets promoted beyond that level, she either has to change how she behaves to become more of a man or she has to find ways to cope with being in a highly competitive alpha male environment.

Even some of the most heart-centered organizations I’ve worked with in those top couple of levels, it’s suddenly a complete culture change. Women don’t feel like they belong. They feel that fear of, “What if they realize they made a mistake hiring me or putting me in this role?” They also found at those senior levels that the spotlight that was on them for being a female in that role rather than a person in that role meant that their secret fears of, “What if they realize I’m not good enough?” It was like having a supernova shining on them. That was one aspect.

CGP 9 | Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome: Imposter syndrome is the secret fear that people are going to find out that we’re not good enough, that we’re faking it, that they made a mistake hiring us, that we don’t belong.


The second factor that was driving the gender pay gap that we found was the lack of flexible working. The expectation that at the more senior levels, you’re going to do the longer days, you’re going to do the overnight when we can travel, that you’ve got to wave goodbye to school concerts and all that thing. Many women felt they didn’t want to have to choose. Even if a company offered flexible working because you’ve got this internal dialogue where you’re judging yourself and you’re worried that others are doing it too. If you accepted the flexible working, you were worried that people were judging you and that somehow would see you as not pulling your weight not being good enough. That was factor two. Factor three was all of the self-sabotage that comes in there from imposter syndrome.

If you imagine, you’re going to step up to a leadership role, you’re going to take responsibility and you are going to be visible at that level. If it’s 3:00 in the morning, you’re lying awake and your inner critic is telling you all the reasons why you’re not good enough, it’s extremely hard to feel congruent and safe doing that. One of the other things we found is that at senior levels, women were likely to apply for a promotion externally to leave a company they love because they were scared of what they perceived as the shame of failure if it became public knowledge that they’d gone for a role that they then didn’t get.

I hear that with a lot of technology companies, where women have applied for promotion and not got it. They’ve then left the organization or they haven’t even applied internally because they’re worried about failing in their eyes. They decide to go for that promotion outside the company, which means you’re losing good female talent.

Somebody else is gaining from the hard work that you’ve put in working with that person and developing them over those years.

We’ve got these three hidden drivers that often companies aren’t particularly aware of. If they’re hidden and you don’t know you’ve got them then there’s not an awful lot that you can only manage what you can see, can’t you?

It’s one of the reasons why I’m passionate about this and my podcast that you are sharing is important because secretly, we know if we have an alpha male culture at the senior level. We will never admit it to the shareholders and we don’t have to wash our dirty linen in public but we know. Secretly, we know whether we’re expecting our leadership team to work hours. That means they’re choosing between career and children, loved ones, care, responsibilities or having a life. By raising the awareness and asking the question, if we were honest, we took our emotions and our biases out of this, are any of these three factors at play? With that third factor of imposter syndrome, there’s something that a lot of companies have been doing that is well-intentioned but it’s making it worse, which is giving women that helping hand. It will seem as quotas or positive discrimination and it’s not being phrased like that.

If you take somebody who secretly believes they don’t belong, that a mistake was made hiring them, who’s scared they’re going to be found out as not good enough and a fraud and you give them that pushups the next level then it amplifies those feelings. They can then look around. I remember when I had imposter syndrome in my engineering days, I was promoted extremely young to senior engineer. The rumor that went around the factories are, “She got the job because she’s a girl.” My imposter syndrome meant I believed it. It can undermine the integrity and respect of female leaders if you are in any way saying to have given them the advantage. I talk about equity instead of equality.

There was a fantastic meme on social media. The dad taking two children to a football match. One was older than the other they couldn’t see over the barrier. The dad got two equal boxes. One child could see over, the other one still couldn’t. Equity is giving that second child the box that they need so they can both see but this does not come in the form of quotes and positive discrimination. It comes in the form of, what does this person needs to be able to thrive? Do they need support in ditching imposter syndrome? Do they need us to put serious work into the flexibility of hours? Do they need us to create a senior-level environment and culture where anybody can thrive with God as if their gender, their ethnicity, their socioeconomic class? Looking at what you need to do to create equity so that it’s fair for everybody rather than giving people that helping hand creates this feeling of resentment.

Make asking for help with imposter syndrome as acceptable as asking for help with Microsoft Excel.

I’ve got clients where there were men who thought they were about to get the next promotion. A woman then got it out of the blue. Everybody knew it was because they’d been told they had to have a quote on the board. That woman had to leave because nobody would respect her authority, even though she might have been the best candidate. We have to be careful at how we handle this, how we communicate it and how we’re being seen to be fair.

What can companies do then in practical terms to stop that imposter syndrome affecting the gender pay gap?

One of the first things is that we need to be training leaders in imposter syndrome in being able to spot the signs. We’re good at hiding it when it’s running because we feel ashamed. It’s an identity level. It’s about who I am as a person. We put a lot of effort into hiding it. By the time we ask for help with it, it means it’s got to a stage where that bridge of coping strategies is no longer enough. It takes courage. Training managers to be able to spot the warning signs. For example, one of the things I do is I train imposter syndrome first status in an organization so they can be a point of contact because it’s removing the taboo. I’m on a mission to make asking for help with imposter syndrome as acceptable as asking for help with Microsoft Excel macros.

Nobody would think twice if they suddenly had to do something complex on Microsoft Office but saying, “I need training on that.” We need to get there with imposter syndrome because it can lead to mental health issues, anxiety, depression, stress, burnout. It can trigger all of these. Having that HR, in-house coaches, leaders, line managers, having the basic awareness, having key points of contact in the business who can help, you can do more than just offer tea and sympathy. Also, having programs that give people practical tools because not everybody needs a full-blown, “Let’s dive in and deal with imposter syndrome.” Sometimes it might be training in how to choose which thoughts to feed. How to be able to press pause on that inner dialogue? I have my Inner Critic Bootcamp program that they can study for that in six weeks, which helps to stop the cycle.

Sometimes they might want to dive in more deeply and work with somebody. You might want some in-house mentors who’ve trained in the deeper work to clear out imposter syndrome particularly if you have people who are stepping up from line management to leadership roles. What triggers imposter syndrome particularly is any shift in identity. For example, becoming a parent, returning from maternity leave. We see it a lot with university students when they graduate. Becoming a leader, a shift in identity opens up that imposter syndrome gap between who you see yourself as being and who you think you need to be. Actively putting imposter syndrome clearing programs into your leadership development strategy, meaning that anybody who is running it without shame, without taboo, without judgment can have a route they can follow that says, “I want to clear this out.” They get to fulfill their potential.

One of the things that happen if somebody gets promoted because part of them is saying, “I want to do this role.” Part of them is screaming, “What if they find me out?” They can turn into a micro-managing boss in as little as a few weeks. The symptoms, the stress, and the anxiety of imposter syndrome can be pushed on down through the team quickly. It can turn a rising star into someone that’s creating a toxic team without even realizing.

Which is another big issue for organizations because that will create other employee engagement issues and employee retention issues.

If anybody in that team was running imposter syndrome, they were at the coping stage and it was dormant then it can trigger it for them as well. In terms of the gender pay gap, having that clear strategy is yes, you would give your team members the development they need to get ready to be leaders. That is not just the practical external strategies. That also has to be the inside work so that they can let go of whatever might be holding them back from becoming a leader that inspires people to thrive and create successful, happy teams.

CGP 9 | Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome: It can undermine the integrity and respect of female leaders if you are in any way saying to have given them the advantage.


This is what we all want at the end of the day because it means that you improve productivity, profitability and your reputation as an employer in the workplace. I’ve enjoyed talking to you about this. I know I could talk all day on this topic because your knowledge and expertise are valuable. If people want to get in touch with you and find out more about what you do, how can they get hold of you?

The research study white paper that might be useful for readers is at I’m on LinkedIn, @ClareJosa. There’s only one of me on normal days. My main website is That’s where you can find all resources. I’ve got things like an advice guide that can be useful for someone who does have imposter syndrome. That’s completely free. That’s at That helps you to know what to say, to know which mistakes to avoid and to be able to start supporting that internal discussion to remove the imposter syndrome taboo and get people to support that they need.

Thank you so much to my guest, Clare. I’ve enjoyed talking to you about imposter syndrome and how this can impact the gender pay gap. I hope you, as readers, have enjoyed reading this episode, too. Thank you so much, Clare.

Thank you so much, Sherry.

If this has sparked a thought in your mind, I’d love you to come and book an exploratory chat with me to give you an opportunity to ask any questions you have about the work I do at technology companies on attracting, developing and retaining your female talents that you can close the gender pay gap. Email me at to book your call. Thank you for reading.

Important Links:

About Clare Josa

Clare Josa is the UK’s leading authority on Imposter Syndrome, the author of eight books, and an expert in the neuroscience and psychology of performance.

Her original training as an engineer, specialising in Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing, means her inspirational approach is grounded in practical common sense, creating breakthroughs not burnout.

CGP 8 | Gender Pay Gap Initiatives

Initiatives And Actions You Can Do To Close The Gender Pay Gap

Some women still get paid less than men for the same work in a company. That’s the hard truth that’s still happening nowadays. In this episode, Sherry Bevan gives a broad overview of all the different approaches used by organizations that want to strengthen their female talent pipeline to close the gender pay gap. She dives deep into various initiatives and actions that you can take in your organization, based on whether the evidence tells us it works or not.

Also in this episode:

  • Your last chance to book a place on the Executive Round Table on Tuesday, 5 October!
  • A brief summary of the four main causes
  • A tour of the initiatives to close the gender pay gap based on the paper published by the Government Equalities Office

Listen to the podcast here:

Initiatives And Actions You Can Do To Close The Gender Pay Gap

Thank you so much for joining me. I would love you to come back next episode. To make that even easier for yourself, you need to subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast player. I don’t know about you but I’m noticing more and more people going back into the office. The trains and the roads are busier, and I’m hoping that means that the local businesses who rely on the commuters are starting to feel that pressure ease up too.

As to me, I’m super excited about what’s coming up in October 2021, and especially when I’m hosting an executive round table on the impact of hybrid working on the Gender Pay Gap in the technology sector. Visibility in the workplace has always been important, having that strong personal brand so that you develop a professional reputation has been an expert in your domain or your field.

Although, we do know that in some organizations or even in some teams, visibility in the past and now as well has also been about presenteeism. What we do know is that the hybrid work model is most here to stay. We also know that those more likely to want to work from home in that hybrid work model are people with disabilities, parents of young children, and women. I’m wondering, how will hybrid working affect the visibility of women, in particular, in your organization?

Does it mean they’ll be less likely to get noticed because they’re more likely to be working from home, to get promoted or to move up the career ladder? In turn, how will that affect your gender pay gap? These are some of the questions that I’m going to be discussing with a small group of HR leaders from other technology companies, including Sky, Microsoft, Sage, so that together we will have the opportunity to learn from each other about what’s working and what’s not in the hybrid work model and discuss the potential impact on the gender pay gap. There is still about time to get involved.

If you’d love to join us on the 5th of October 2021 at the executive round table, reach out to me. For now, let’s get into the show. In this episode, I wanted to give you a broad overview of all the different approaches and initiatives that are used by a whole range of organizations that want to strengthen their female talent pipeline so that they close the gender pay gap. Before we look at the different initiatives that you could implement, first, let’s take a couple of moments to think about the main causes of the gender pay gap.

Four Main Causes Of Gender Pay Gap

If we look at papers published by The Fawcett Society, they suggest that there are four main causes and these are discrimination, unequal caring responsibilities, a divided labor market, and men in the most senior roles. If we start by looking at discrimination, it’s illegal but some women still get paid less than men for the same work. There’s a lot of discrimination, particularly around pregnancy maternity leave. Pregnant Then Screwed estimates at 54,000 women lose or are forced to leave their jobs every year, simply for getting pregnant.

CGP 8  | Gender Pay Gap Initiatives
Gender Pay Gap Initiatives: When you put together a short list of qualified candidates, whether you’re recruiting for a new hire or working on your promotions round, make sure that more than one woman is included.

There’s research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission in partnership with the Department for Business in 2016. That showed that more than 3/4 of pregnant women and new mothers, that’s the equivalent of 390,000 women, experience negative and potentially discriminatory treatment at work each year. That is 1 of the 4 main causes of the gender pay gap.

The next one to think about then is unequal caring responsibilities. Women play a greater role in caring for children, as well as for sick or elderly relatives. As a result, more women work part-time. We know that part-time jobs are typically lower paid with fewer opportunities to make progress in your career. In the divided labor market, women are still more likely to be in low-paid and low-skilled jobs affecting labor market segregation. Eighty percent of those working in the low-paid care and leisure sector, for example, are women.

You might think that this divided labor market doesn’t affect the technology sector but I encourage you to go back to the interview of Jo Stansfield in episode four when we talked about the hierarchy that exists in the technology sector with women more likely to be in the lowest status roles. The final cause is men in the most senior roles. Men make up the majority of those in the highest-paid and most senior roles. For example, only 5% of FTSE 100 CEO are women.

What You Can Do

That’s a brief overview of the four main causes of the gender pay gap, but what can you do about it to close the gender pay gap in your organization? First and foremost, you don’t close the gender pay gap by simply focusing on pay. It’s more complicated than that. In my experience, there are three key areas to look at, how you attract staff, how you develop those staff, and retention, so how you keep and engage those staff. The thing is you can’t do everything at once. It’s important to prioritize where you’re going to spend your time, energy and budget.

Perhaps one of the most important things in order for any initiative to be successful is to get the support and the buy-in at the most senior levels of the organization. You can do that by demonstrating the business benefits. How does it affect profitability, productivity and reputation? There are lots of business benefits to increasing gender diversity and inclusion but we’re not going to be looking at those. We will look at those in a future episode.

While I could break this down into how you attract, develop, and retain your female talent, I’ve wanted this episode to be much more action-focused. What I’m going to do is I’m going to share the learnings from a fabulous resource that I highly recommend on the government website published by the Government Equalities Office. If you’ve got time to read it, I encourage you to start with the paper called Reducing the gender pay gap and improving gender equality in organisations: Evidence-based actions for employers.

In order for any initiative to be successful, it has to get the support and the buy-in at the most senior levels of the organization.

Initiatives That Work

First, I’m going to talk through the actions and initiatives where there are published quality evidence that these initiatives work, which means that you start to close your gender pay gap when you start to implement these initiatives. This is from the published research, the actions that are known to have had a positive impact in the real world.

The first thing then is to include multiple women in the shortlist for recruitment and promotions. This initiative then is about ensuring that when you put together a shortlist of qualified candidates, whether you’re recruiting for a new hire or you’re working on your promotions round, you need to make sure that more than one woman is included. What we do know from the published research is that a shortlist with only one woman doesn’t increase the chance of a woman being selected. It’s about having multiple women on those shortlists.

Number two, then is about looking at using skills-based assessment tasks in recruitment. Rather than relying only on interviews when you’re recruiting, what you can do is to ask candidates to perform tasks that they will be expected to perform in the role that they are applying for. You then use their performance on those tasks to assess their suitability for the role. What’s important is that you standardize those tasks and how they are scored to ensure fairness across candidates. That one is about using skills-based assessment tasks in recruitment.

Sticking with the recruitment and promotion idea then, the next idea for you is to use structured interviews for recruitment and promotions. As an HR professional, you know that structured and unstructured interviews both have their own strengths and weaknesses. However, it’s much more likely that unfair bias will creep in and influence decisions in an unstructured interview.

Whereas if you go down the structured interview route, this will ask exactly the same questions of all the candidates in a predetermined order and format. It means that you can grade the responses using a pre-specified, standardized criterion. That means that the responses are comparable and you reduce the impact of that unconscious bias. Staying with the attraction theme then, the next one is to encourage you to encourage salary negotiation by showing salary ranges on your job ads.

We know that women are less likely to negotiate their pay. As a leadership consultant, when I work with women on a one-to-one basis, salary negotiation, the when, the how, and the if always comes up. There are lots of reasons why women are less likely to negotiate on salary. It’s partly because women are put off because if they’re not sure what a reasonable offer is, they don’t negotiate.

CGP 8  | Gender Pay Gap Initiatives
Gender Pay Gap Initiatives: Women are less likely to negotiate their pay. It’s partly because if they’re not sure what a reasonable offer is, they don’t negotiate.

Therefore, you can make a difference by clearly communicating the salary range on offer for a particular role to encourage women to negotiate their salary. This helps your applicant know what they can reasonably expect. In addition, if the salary for a role is negotiable, you need to state that clearly because that can also encourage women to negotiate. When women don’t negotiate and they end up with a lower salary, it means that longer-term, they’re going to end up with smaller bonuses and pay rises, which are typically done as a percentage of that start salary.

If women negotiate their salaries more often, they’ll end up with salaries that more closely match the salaries of men. That means that you’re going to have an impact on your gender pay gap. The next one then is to think about introducing transparency to the processes for promotion, pay and reward. Transparency means being open about those processes, your policies, and the criteria for decision-making, which means that employees are clear about what’s involved and that managers understand that their decisions need to be objective and evidence-based because those decisions can be reviewed by others.

When you introduce transparency to promotion, pay, and reward processes, it can reduce pay inequalities, which means that in turn, you’ll start to close your gender pay gap. The final one in this section on what we know has a positive impact, it’s about appointing diversity managers and/or appointing or creating a diversity task force. Diversity managers and task forces monitor the talent management processes, such as recruitment or promotions, and also diversity within the organization.

Having a diversity manager or a task force can reduce bias decisions in recruitment and promotion because people who make those decisions know that their decisions may be reviewed. It’s that accountability that can improve the representation of women in your organization. When you’re thinking about your diversity managers, there should be somebody who has a senior or executive role within the organization. They need to have visibility of your internal data, and they need to be in the position and have your authority to ask for more information on why decisions were made so that they feel empowered to develop and implement diversity strategies and policies.

Initiatives That Show Promise

Let’s move on to think about the actions that from the research, they have promise but they need further research to get more evidence on their effectiveness and implementation. The first one is to think about improving workplace flexibility for men and women. Advertise and offer all jobs as having flexible working options, such as part-time work or remote working, or hybrid working, job sharing, or compressed hours. The more that you talk about your flexible working policies, the more likely that women will fly in the first place. Often, when I work with women on a one-to-one basis, if flexible working doesn’t get mentioned anywhere on the company’s website or anywhere on the job description, they will often talk themselves out of even applying.

Allow people to work flexibly where it’s possible so it’s not just a policy but it’s happening on the ground, so to speak. Encourage your senior-level leaders to role model working flexibly, and to champion flexible working. If they work themselves flexibly, encourage them to talk about it so that others see that this is a normal way of working, even if you’re in a senior position. Finally, workplace flexibility is about encouraging men to work flexibly that it’s not seen as a female-only benefit. It’s not just something that women want.

The gender pay gap widens dramatically after women have children. This could be reduced if men and women share childcare more equally.

The next one in this section then is to encourage the uptake of shared parental leave. We see that the gender pay gap widens dramatically after women have children. However, this could be reduced if men and women were able to share childcare more equally. Shared parental leave and pay enable working parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay in their child’s first year. The actions that show promise here are when organizations offer enhanced, shared parental pay at the same level as enhanced maternity pay or when they encourage the take-up of shared parental leave.

For example, when you inform future fathers that it’s their legal right to request shared parental leave. When you provide future parents with guidance and personal support, to understand the scheme, and when you share and promote examples of senior leaders who’ve taken shared parental leave in your organization. That one was all about encouraging the uptake of shared parental leave. Following on from that, it’s about recruiting returners. Returners are people who’ve either taken an extended career break for caring or for other reasons and are either not currently employed, or maybe they’re in roles for which they’re overqualified.

When you recruit returners, things that you can do, for example, is to target places where returners are likely to be looking, ensure that your recruitment processes are returner friendly, and offer support before and during the assessment. Remember, these people who’ve taken an extended career break may have lost a bit of confidence but they certainly haven’t lost the skills and the knowledge.

The next one then is to think about offering mentoring and sponsorship. They’re quite similar. Mentors provide guidance and advice to their mentees, while sponsors support the advancement and visibility of the person that they’re sponsoring.

There is some evidence to suggest that mentoring programs work very well for some women but not for others. At the moment, it’s not clear based on the existing evidence whether sponsorships are more effective than mentoring, or whether it’s the other way around, or how best to run mentoring and sponsorship programs so that they’re effective and they make a difference. There’s not enough evidence right now to make a recommendation one way or the other.

The other thing that you could do and offer some promise is to offer networking programs.

There was some evidence that suggests that formal networking programs where members meet and share information and careers advice can be helpful for some women but not every woman. There’s more work needed here to understand the effects of networking programs or other diversity programs, and whether they need to have particular features in order to be successful in helping you to close your gender pay gap.

Finally, set internal targets on the basis that you can only manage what you measure. You need to set internal targets, so equality goals and these goals need to be clear and realistic.

You need to be able to track your progress. You could have a generic, overarching goal such as improve gender quality at my organization or reduce my organization’s gender pay gap but those aren’t specific. Therefore, they’re more likely to be unsuccessful. One way of increasing the likelihood that you reach your goals and that you will do something to improve gender equality and close that gender pay gap is to set very specific time-bound targets. What change will you achieve? By when will you achieve it?

CGP 8  | Gender Pay Gap Initiatives
Gender Pay Gap Initiatives: One way of increasing the likelihood of reaching your goals and doing something to improve gender equality and close that gender pay gap is to set very specific time-bound targets.

Initiatives With Mixed Results

In this final section then, I’m going to share those actions or initiatives that have some mixed results. The jury is still out because sometimes the result is positive but sometimes it has a negative impact. As yet, there’s not enough evidence to say for sure, whether that’s down to the way it’s been implemented or whether there’s something else at work here.

The first thing that we’re going to look at are unconscious bias training or diversity training. Unconscious bias training is often where a new organization starts. It’s easy, practical and tangible but it can sometimes be seen as a bit of a tick-box exercise. “We’ve done unconscious bias training. We’ve done our bit.”

The thing with unconscious bias is it can influence a person’s judgment without them even being aware of it. Unconscious bias training in the workplace aims to make people aware of those potentially harmful unconscious biases and to reduce the impact of those biases. While some types of unconscious bias training may have some limited positive effects, there is no evidence that this training changes behavior or improves workplace equality. Certainly, there’s no evidence that it does this on an ongoing or a permanent basis. It’s like everything. We learned skills, but then we need to practice those skills so we’d learn about unconscious bias, but then we need to practice listening and becoming aware of our unconscious bias.

Again, when we look at diversity training, that can help raise awareness but it’s unlikely to change behavior. It’s only through changing behavior that you’re going to start to close your gender pay gap. There’s been some research in the US that has found that mandatory diversity training either doesn’t change the number of women in management positions or reduces it. In other words, it’s backfiring.

This might be for a whole number of reasons. Is it that people resent being made to do something and so don’t take the training seriously? The training might also bring to mind some unhelpful stereotypes, which people then act upon but it might be that the training makes people think that the organization has now solved its diversity problems. “We’ve ticked the box, now we’re good.”

Another aspect of training that organizations will often embark on is leadership development training. Leadership development programs aim to teach qualities, including management skills, self-confidence. Certainly, in the leadership development training that I do, we look at networking and how to articulate your ambitions. There are some very small-scale studies of the effects of leadership training programs, women, particularly in medicine and academia.

However, there’s no high-quality evidence that such programs definitely help women progress. Sometimes people feel that these programs imply that the women themselves are the problem. It’s not about fixing the women. It’s about fixing the culture and the work landscape. While leadership development training can be a fantastic initiative to introduce, it doesn’t necessarily, based on the evidence, translate itself into hard results in terms of closing your gender pay gap.

Performance self-assessments. In terms of performance in the workplace, there is some evidence that women underestimate their abilities or that they’re more conservative in their assessment of their abilities than men are.

Unconscious bias can influence a person’s judgment without them even being aware of it.

The size of this gender difference can vary depending on the type of performance that people are asked to self-assess. There’s not enough evidence to know how differences in self-assessment affect women’s progression at work. However, if this is something that you’re interested in, I do encourage you to read episode five, in which I interview Shirin Nikaein about how performance feedback affects women’s career progression. Again, in episode six, when I explore how performance self-assessment has an impact.

The final initiative that I’m going to talk about, diverse selection panels. Again, not enough evidence yet to say definitively, whether this will have a positive impact but it does seem that having a selection panel with a mix of men and women seems to help women’s prospects sometimes but, and here’s the kicker, sometimes a mix selection panel or a diverse selection panel hums women’s prospector other times. Some studies show that the more women there are on a panel, the more likely women are to be selected for a role, while unfortunately, some studies find the complete opposite. The effect can also depend on the role being recruited for or the role of the women who are on that panel, who are on that selection committee.

There’s not enough research at the moment to understand the conditions under which a diverse selection panel is or isn’t effective for improving gender equality and, in the long run, closing the gender pay gap. That’s it for this episode, a broad overview of the many different actions and initiatives that you could choose to prioritize in your companies that you start to close the gender pay gap. This overview is based on the Government Equalities Office paper, Reducing the Gender Pay Gap and Improving Gender Quality in Organisations, Evidence-based actions for employers.

I encourage you to go back to that government website for the links to specific research and evidence on these different initiatives.

I hope you found this episode useful and that it sparks some ideas for discussion in your organization.

Please, do reach out and book a call with me if you’d like to explore any of these initiatives and actions with an objective leadership consultant. I offer exploratory calls that you can ask any questions you have about the work that I do with technology companies on attracting, developing, and retaining your female talent so that you can close the gender pay gap.

Simply email me at to book your call. One final shout-out, don’t forget, if you want a place at my executive round table on the 5th of October 2021, please do get in touch. I’d hate for you to miss out on this opportunity to discuss the impact of hybrid working on the gender pay gap with your peers from other technology companies. Thank you so much for reading. To find out more about me and my work, pop over to

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