The focus on Weetabix is part of our Corporate Insights series, which explores how large firms tackle certain business processes, helping SME bosses to adapt the strategies accordingly for their own companies.
Real Business spoke with Stuart Branch, group people and IT director at Weetabix, who detailed why the gender pay gap is such an important issue for the company.
“There’s been a lot of work and campaigning in recent years to make sure companies are as fair with their pay as possible. All companies should be looking to make sure they don’t have any unconscious biases in their pay – it’s the responsible thing to do,” Branch said.
“It’s certainly something that’s been on Weetabix’s agenda for a number of years. In fact, we’ve been actively trying to reduce any pay gap within our company since 2013.
“This is the first time organisations have had to be transparent around the issue, and it’s been interesting to see the results being published – and nice to see that we’re far ahead of the average.”
He is, of course, referring to the gender pay gap reporting initiative the government introduced, which requires all companies with 250 employees or more to publish four types of pay differences between men and women before 30 March 2018.
In a bid to be ahead of the curve, Weetabix published its gender pay gap in October 2017. It was revealed the firm’s gap is much smaller than the 18.1 per cent national average reported by the government.
“The results show that Weetabix had a 5.4 per cent pay gap in mean pay in 2016-17. The organisation closed its gap by 3.7 per cent between 2016 and 2017 – based on difference in mean pay,” explained Branch.
He said getting there has been a “journey over the past four years”. That journey has been designed to eliminate gender from factoring in any decisions, including pay. Branch insisted building a team at Weetabix is about talent first and career progression is encouraged regardless of sex.
“We’re constantly striving to create a genuinely inclusive environment that allows anyone and everyone to flourish. Ultimately, a company is only as good as the people within it, so we’re committed to making our workplace as fair, empowering and inclusive as it can be,” he said.
Many think the gender pay gap belongs to the elite; that it concerns discrepancies between the salaries of big-name actors or BBC talent. This impression may stem from the fact the newly enforced pay gap reporting only applies to companies with over 250 staff.
But why publish early, what was the thinking behind that, you wonder? To be as upfront as possible and set the standard.
“As a leading company within our sector, it’s crucial we lead by example and publish our pay. We’re proud of our results and as we were ready to share the figures, we thought there would be interest in publishing the results early,” recalled Branch.
“There is a gap, which we’re not proud of, and there’s still more for us to do. However, you’ll see from the report that there was a positive closing in the gap. We’ve closed it by 3.7 per cent over the past year. We’re proud of this and are keen to get our message out about how important it is for us as a business to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.”
In terms of the nationwide pay gap being so much higher than the one at Weetabix, Branch diplomatically said he can’t comment on other manufacturers, only that he hopes the gender pay gap reporting calls for the discussion to be moved up the agenda for businesses.
Explaining how the Weetabix pay gap is so much smaller, Branch called it an ongoing process. “31 per cent of our workforce is female, and we want to make sure there is nothing stopping more coming into the business,” he said.
“We’re working on initiatives to promote inclusion across all our teams, such as growing our apprenticeships, encouraging more flexibility in our working practices and employee benefits, and promoting self-development through our learning programmes.”
An in-depth study of job adverts across the UK has suggested a trend of “gender-coded language” is sweeping the nation.
Not wanting to dictate how an SME should reduce any gender pay gaps, Branch recognised that all companies are different. However, he said transparency is crucial and the reporting legislation could push people into action.
“The more companies that publish their results, the better, as it puts pressure on all businesses to reduce the gender pay gap – and that can only be a good thing,” he said.
Weetabix, meanwhile, plans to reduce the gender pay gap in the business even further in the coming years, which will be achieved by analysing data and policies to erase any unconscious bias.
“For example, where previously our working hours may have better suited some people than others, now we have flexible working hours. Through our Weetabix people survey we are getting really good feedback on these policies and can see that they are being well respected and appreciated by the team,” he said.
“For us, it’s about making sure we always continue to do the right thing, even when no one is watching. We’re doing all the right things, and have done so for a number of years now.”
Branch noted that the main challenge for the business is the fact that the manufacturing industry in which Weetabix operates is largely male-dominated, so numbers are skewed by men.
“We therefore want to make sure we make Weetabix an attractive place to work, to ensure we continue to attract, recruit and retain women in equal proportion to men,” Branch explained.
As for whether SMEs with under 250 people should publish results, he pointed that they have other issues to manage, though steps can still be taken.
Branch concluded: “Obviously, there are pressures on smaller companies who might not have resources to tackle gender pay gap issues, but hopefully we will get to a place where all businesses are proactively ensuring that gender is not a factor in decision making.”