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What the Wonder Woman vs Superman debate taught us about workplace inequality

We’re addressing the gender pipeline problem by observing the Wonder Woman vs Superman debate and what it can teach us about workplace inequality.
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Wonder Woman – a modern day heroine, a cultural icon for feminism, a role model for girls and young women.

For many years, Wonder Woman has represented a lot of things to many people.

And with the latest franchise from Warner Bros’ DC films choosing to focus on the legendary female superhero Wonder Woman, it’s positive to see Hollywood confront a very real truth – the importance of more women in lead roles.  

Whilst young boys have grown up alongside the likes of Superman and Batman, in previous years, TV and film have infamously failed to provide a suitable equivalent for girls and young women.

But with the arrival of Wonder Woman alongside Katniss from the Hunger Games trilogy and Alicia Florrick from the Good Wife series – to name a few – shining a beacon of hope for women across the globe, we’re definitely making great strides in the right direction.    

But, all of this positivity and praise around a female superhero lead has been clouded by a very sensitive topic of conversation – the gender pay gap.

It was the result of a misinformed tweet which saw news about Gal Gadot’s $300,000 Wonder Woman pay cheque spiral out of control. Without proper verification, the news that Gal Gadot was paid a mere $300,000 in comparison to her Man of Steel counterpart Henry Cavill’s whooping $14m package for his role as Superman broke the internet. 

When comparing the figures at a quick glance it’s understandable to feel a searing outrage.

But what many chose to overlook was that Gadot’s initial salary doesn’t include box office performance bonuses – which is what saw Cavill’s pay cheque increase significantly.

What does this all mean for equality though? The news, in fact, has nothing to do with the gender wage gap. Instead, it points towards a simple truth – discussions around the gender pay gap can often be misrepresented.

Whilst it’s of course imperative that organisations adequately address this long-standing (and ongoing) issue, it’s vital that we not forget that differences in pay are often part of a wider context, as businesses fail to create environments that support women in the long-term.

More than a pay problem – supporting women at work

One major factor preventing gender equality is the pipeline problem. But how can businesses address the low number of women in more senior-level positions? In terms of strategy, the first step is to increase the pipeline of talent by driving recruitment of women at a graduate and apprentice level. 

But it doesn’t stop there. Through the provision of flexible working to support women throughout their career lifecycle, women need to be properly retained with the business.

Whilst it’s one thing to have the right proportion, we need to be asking whether there is a culture of inclusion. Are organisations properly fostering an environment in which people are allowed to speak out or are encouraged to be confident in themselves?

For this, women’s networks are also vital in ensuring that women receive the proper support and advice they need. And it’s the responsibility of the senior team to take the lead by championing women within their organisation, and encouraging senior women to act as mentors and role models. 

Whilst recruiting women at a graduate and apprentice level is a great starting point, organisations need to also be aware of, and eliminate any, subliminal bias in hiring, promotions and pay rises.

How? By looking at promotion inclusion both on the intake side – in terms of reducing the unconscious bias in recruiting – and also in the culture that exists in meetings and generally in the workplace. 

As often people don’t realise they have them – which is why they’re called unconscious – we need to be making more effort in recruitment, promotion, selecting people for projects, and in all parts of the business, to make sure it’s fair and equitable.

For example, there are specific training courses to tackle it. Managers attend and then roll it out across the whole company, so everyone has an understanding and is talking about these topics.

It’s done in a hidden way, so people feel they can call out behaviours that are not consistent with our values, and people are given the freedom to do that.

To ensure we’re seeing more women in those higher paid roles, it’s clear organisations across all industries need to be supporting and fostering female talent early on and throughout their careers, helping them to successfully move up the ladder.

After all, with 70 per cent of women aged 16 to 64 in work, organisations that fail to foster a whole group of talent properly in the workforces will prevent the UK from seeing a prosperous economy.

Regina Moran is VP and head of industry consulting and software solutions, EMEIA BAS at Fujitsu

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