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.
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.
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?
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 Sherry@SherryBevan.co.uk 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 SherryBevan.co.uk.
- The Fawcett Society
- Pregnant Then Screwed
- Equality and Human Rights Commission
- Jo Stansfield – Previous episode
- FTSE 100 CEO
- Reducing the gender pay gap and improving gender equality in organisations: Evidence-based actions for employers
- Shirin Nikaein – Previous episode
- The Gender Gap In Self-Promotion: How To Encourage More Women To Put Themselves Forward – Previous episode
- Twitter – Sherry Bevan
- LinkedIn – Sherry Bevan