Faced with stricter pay reporting regulations, UK companies are implementing recruitment strategies to increase diversity.
By Simon Kent
The UK’s gender pay gap reporting regulations, which require organisations with more than 250 employees to publish their pay gap data, have revealed the significant and entrenched gender inequality that exists in the workplace. But on its own, the initiative is not enough to change the problems it highlights.
According to Duncan Brown, head of HR consultancy at the Institute of Employment Studies, “The research evidence is that it takes multiple initiatives across HR policies sustained over a number of years to seriously reduce gender pay gaps. There can be no doubt that in combination with other developments, most notably increasingly severe skills shortages, higher minimum wage levels, and #MeToo, gender pay reporting has helped to push gender and wider equality and diversity issues up the employer agenda to the board level.”
Stephen Frost, vice president of diversity for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and former head of diversity and inclusion for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), believes the reporting has had a positive impact. “We knew the countrywide gender divide in salary, but this gave us not only much more accurate data, but also data particular to each individual organisation,” he says. “As a result, employees within those organisations have more power to demand accountability. This has led to significant changes in the companies whose pay gaps were most egregious and potentially to changes in companies where gaps were not quite as big as well.”
Some companies are—and indeed, already were—demonstrating how gender equality can be promoted. Global services company Sodexo has a commitment to ensure 100 per cent of employees work in gender-balanced teams and that the representation of women in senior leadership positions reaches 40 per cent by 2025, up from 33 per cent today. This initiative has been informed by a study run by the company which demonstrated that management teams with a 40 to 60 per cent gender split in either direction were more effective across a number of areas, such as improved financial performance, employee engagement, health and safety, and client retention.
“The business case for gender equality remains crystal clear to us. It is not only the right thing to do, it helps drive our business performance too,” says Sean Haley, regional chair of Sodexo UK and Ireland. “We believe that progress on gender equality will only happen when your workplace culture is truly inclusive, and we will continue to work towards building a workplace where everyone can flourish.”
On a different scale, Harvey Water Softeners, a small 40-year-old UK manufacturing business, has also been promoting gender awareness in the workplace. Alexandra Thompson, head of people and culture, says, “We’re aware of the role that culture plays in driving equality and feel that the introduction of coaching as a style of leadership will have a big impact. We check our adverts to avoid putting female applicants off—for example, with extensive travel—and have recently begun to use a tool that checks the gender bias of words in adverts.”
The company has also raised the profile of their female staff. “Some years back, our most senior female was a bookkeeper/office manager. Now, two of our eight-person senior leadership team are female and we have an increasing—albeit too few—representation of females in the wider management group,” she reports.
The company is set to make its first gender pay report next year, raising awareness of this issue internally. “Research shows women are less likely to be proactive at coming forward to ask for pay, so on an annual basis, we review all pay and ensure that it benchmarks both internally and externally,” Thompson explains.
Astrid Akse, EMEA HR business partner for Kelly, places gender within a general awareness of diversity. “Diversity is built into Kelly’s DNA,” she says. “With strong female representation across the board, we have avoided the issue of the ‘token female,’ and this can be seen at every level of the business.” Kelly EMEA is headed up by Dinette Koolhaas, herself a huge advocate of diversity in the workplace. “Truly embracing diversity can be about embracing the talents of people who think and act differently, and this is something that we actively work on in Kelly,” adds Akse.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Sanderson, managing director of Corecom Consulting, feels intervention is required within employment sectors before candidates even start considering their careers. “We are looking to help change the perception of women in technology at various levels of the education system,” he says. This includes working with local universities on promoting STEM subjects and creating an annual event called WITBoss for women leaders in technology. The recruitment company has seen some impact within their own work as a result, placing 21 per cent more women last year compared to five years ago.
“Some schools are now teaching children to code from as young as eight,” says Sanderson. “This will help to reduce the gender gap in IT and make a difference in the future, with the youngest being given the chance to learn how to code—male or female.”
Frost is clear that addressing the issue means tackling forces that extend beyond the workplace and across society in general. “The fact is that most of the gender pay gap is due to women not being able to work the same number of hours due to the unequal distribution of household labour, and social context pressuring women into particular industries and discouraging them from others,” he says. “What we’re seeing now is a society that is confronting these facts, and in some cases governments that are responding with policies to encourage greater gender equality that could lead to a narrowing of pay gaps.”
With companies of all sizes keen to accept the challenge, it seems possible to achieve business targets whilst also pursuing increased gender equality. As a result, perhaps the next round of pay gap reports will show more positive change.