With the national UK average currently standing at 9.1% for full-time employees, few companies will report no gap at all. And when they do – customers, competitors, activists and media will be watching closely.
What is the gender pay gap, anyway? It’s the mean (average) and the median (middle number in distribution) of income ranges between all men and all women working for an organisation. If you employ more men than women overall, with fewer women than men in senior roles, you are in for a considerable pay gap “favouring” your male workforce.
For many organisations, the gender pay gap report can be a double-edged sword. The trick is not to fall on it, but to use it to one’s advantage.
What we’ve seen so far can simply be summed up as: same story – different outcomes. Strangely enough, it’s not the headline gender pay gap numbers that matter the most. It’s the way companies shape their narrative and present their numbers to the world.
Whatever you do, don’t rush to file your numbers too quickly. Great haste makes great waste. First in a series of many more gender pay gap reports to be submitted over the years, it will always stay there as a reference point and a benchmark for the organisation.
Yet, somewhat surprisingly, 190 companies – or 36% out of those that have reported their numbers through the government website already – had failed to provide a mandatory explanation of those numbers signed by a senior person within the organisation. The Financial Times notes that it violates the government gender pay gap reporting requirements. The newspaper, in fact, was quick to turn this new government initiative into a reputation campaigning platform for its analytical self. Watching the gender pay gap reporting patterns like a hawk – the FT continues to question irregularities in company submissions. More recently, it urged the UK government to show zero tolerance to knowingly inaccurate company submissions. It’s not to say that other media find it less of a juicy subject.
Here are a few poignant examples for consideration:
- The BBC found itself in cross-fire after reporting a 9.3% gender pay gap, which in fact is close to the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) national average. Everyone discussed it, everyone had an opinion. One thing led to another, culminating in the newly appointed UK Culture Secretary Matthew Hancock saying that “much more action” is needed by the BBC to address claims of pay inequality. On his first day in the new job! He later added that the BBC should not pay its star presenters more than the UK Prime Minister because it has a “special responsibility” to taxpayers.
- Citi “bowed” to shareholder pressure and reported its gender pay gap for the US, UK and Germany revealing a stunning 1% gap to what almost felt like a standing ovation to a first of its kind corporate disclosure.
- EasyJet skilfully navigated the headwinds reporting a 45.5% median pay gap between its male and female staff. The budget airline, whose ex-CEO Dame Carolyn McCall joined ITV in January, said the gap was heavily influenced by the salaries and gender make-up of its pilots, who account for more than a quarter of its UK employees. The airline employs 1,407 male pilots and 86 female pilots in the UK.
If anything, these three examples show that that one’s gender pay gap results report could be either a threat or an opportunity. Its positioning must be well thought through. Think about how you communicate it. When? What would help to bring those numbers to life and make them easily understood by all stakeholders?
Moreover, try to get to the root cause of the issue:
- could it be such that a gender pay gap plagues the whole industry, not just your firm?
- could it be a structural, a “pipeline” or a legacy issue?
- is there any scope for confusion between the gender pay gap and equal pay?
As you contextualise your gender pay gap data, make sure your story:
- stands up to scrutiny
- explains the rationale behind the figures
- shows you take the issue seriously
- demonstrates your commitment to making further progress
- closely aligns with your company perceptions
As much as we, PR professionals, would love to talk about the value we bring in ROI terms, this is a perfect example of the real difference good communication strategies can make to business outcomes.
We are helping our clients get to the root cause and contextualise their gender pay gap results in a way that balances operational decision-making with reputational considerations.
If this is something we can help you with – do get in touch.