As of Thursday 6 April, gender pay gap reporting rules have now come into force, a long-awaited recognition of the gender disparity in the workforce.
However, reporting on these figures alone is not going to fix the fundamental issue of gender discrimination within businesses, says Chris Roberts, practice director at Business Performance and Leadership Consultancy Accelerating Experience.
There are no questions over the reasons for a diverse workforce. It creates a high performing team, delivering value to an organisation, boosting productivity and the bottom line. That said, understanding the business benefit is not the same thing as delivering the change required.
To deliver fundamental change, behaviours need to change in the workplace and reporting on pay is not enough to resolve inequality and in turn boost productivity.
The gender pay gap is currently 18.1 per cent, at the current rate, will take until 2041 to close. Inequality at board level is even more acute, with female progression into leadership roles still limited.
Women occupy just over a quarter of FTSE 100 board seats, a figure that drops to 16 per cent in the wider 350.
Moreover, 52 companies in the FTSE 350 still have no female representation at all. Yes, we have seen improvement following the introduction of Lord Davies’ target-based approach in 2011, but it has it limits.
Firstly, the target can be skirted if board sizes shrink, meaning the number of women on executive boards would remain low in absolute terms. Secondly, a target-based approach does not automatically address the underlying workplace issues that prevents female progression and a deeper leadership talent pool.
Not enough is being done to create a flexible, respectful working environment. Flexible working allows flexible building of careers, but change needs to go beyond working from home a day a week and part-time working.
Neither is enough being done to highlight disrespectful behaviours. This needs to be done across the whole environment, and is not just a task for women.
Creating the right conversations amongst equals about gender balance and not worrying about saying the wrong thing will expose the unconscious bias sitting below the surface.
We must recognise that resolving the issue of inequality requires the engagement of both female and male employees. Both must feel included in the conversations and the solution and not dealt with behind closed doors of special networks which don’t build trust and understanding. The management of the special networks is key with the right purpose and agenda very clear.
Resolving UK plc’s issue with gender equality, and deepening the pool of female leaders, is not something that can be done overnight with gender pay gap reporting. It requires full-scale organisational change, and a people strategy embraced by the executive board.
Ultimately, when we look at figures on pay and progression inequality, we should not be judging women or men. We should be judging organisations, and their willingness to change and establish high performing, inclusive cultures.
Gender pay gap reporting is only one part of the puzzle, and more needs to be done to address wider issues such as gender discrimination in order to strengthen teams in the workplace.
Chris Roberts is practice director at business performance and leadership consultancy Accelerating Experience