Opinion

Equal Pay Day should serve as a reminder that corporate culture needs to change

7 min read

09 November 2017

The day in which women stop being paid – ironically termed Equal Pay Day – is just around the corner. It will undoubtedly flag ways in which employers can drive progress, but the key role corporate culture can play cannot be ignored.

Equal Pay Day rears its head on Friday 10 November – the day whereby women effectively stop earning money. While certain sectors are progressing by leaps and bounds in tackling the issue, the nation seems to have struck a wall comprised of discrimination, legal misunderstanding and the inability to keep the conversation around these aspects moving forward.

The current pay gap of 9.1 per cent is smaller than the one previous generations had to contend with – it stood at 17.4 per cent in 1997. That women have to leave work to raise their kids or be satisfied with keeping the house clean, is no longer a view we all possess.

But that’s where concern starts to creep in. Why does that 9.1 per cent gap exist? It’s the very crux of Equal Pay Day, which serves as a slightly more tangible example of the different wages both sexes receive.

Aside from a lack of females in STEM subjects in school, there’s the view that women have their “personal reasons”. A Bloomberg article highlights that one female held a degree in chemistry but went on to become a high school teacher – “making less money than she might have otherwise.”

The point made is that women may find themselves in lower-paid jobs though their own choosing, which by default drags the average median of wages for men higher. Having children falls into the “personal reasons” category for many as well – an area which garners much attention.

Equality Human Rights recently unveiled some statistics, suggesting 11 per cent of UK mothers are dismissed and made redundant without a second thought. Many taking part proclaimed they were so badly treated they felt they had no choice but to leave the company. Those with high-paid jobs thus find themselves taking on low-paid jobs, largely because of perception.

As The Telegraph explained in 2016: “Some 70 per cent of bosses think women should declare they’re pregnant when applying for jobs. An astounding one in four thought it was fair to ask interviewees if they plan to have children.”

It went so far as to detail how 54,000 mothers were being forced out of work each year due to deteriorating attitudes towards maternity leave and women coming back to work.

Culture and perception seem to be pressing matters. Workplace attitude, policy and support could thus be seen as lacking. Were these facets factored in, women wouldn’t be so seemingly pushed into lower-paid jobs. That trust, respect and individual value needs to come to the fore for everyone is a subject many attempt to push – one being Nicky Little, director and head of Cirrus.

“Even if we fix the issue of the gender pay gap tomorrow (unlikely, as the World Economic Forum predicts it’ll take 100 years to close it if we continue at this pace), we are still left with wider issues of culture and values in the workplace,” Cirrus opined. “Women, like everyone else, benefit from a supportive working environment with a high degree of trust and respect, where individual contributions are valued.

“Responding to the needs of employees – whether it’s a need to achieve equal pay, to balance work and family, to balance work and study – not only ensures equality in the workplace, it also helps boost employee engagement, motivation and morale, and makes good business sense.

“If a company does not have a positive culture, or doesn’t offer a supportive environment, more and more people ask why. Employees, customers and other stakeholders are becoming increasingly discerning. Even in a tough economic climate, we want a successful working life that provides meaning as well as money. Most of us, whether male or female, want to get rid of barriers to career success – and most of us want to see business leaders who will stand up and help us do it.”

Having all members of staff embrace a culture shift won’t be easy, however, unless misunderstandings around subjects like Equal Pay Day are cleared up – something that has hampered progress on numerous occasions.

For the most part, Brits believe the gender pay gap is a lie. Kate Waters of Campaign points out that this fixation stems from the fact that people believe it an illegal move. Women can’t be paid less than men due to the Equal Pay Act.

“While, sadly, unequal pay is still one of the causes of the gender pay gap, it’s by no means the only cause and is certainly not the biggest,” she said. “A lack of women in senior roles is one of the biggest issues we fail to address. And what does the gender pay gap look like for women with disabilities? Or women of colour?

“Of course, the government’s reporting endeavour will give better understanding of what other causes there are. But as ever, action is the only thing that really matters. So, this Equal Pay Day, I’ll be switching on my Out Of Office to mark the day that women effectively stop getting paid.”

There are far too many factors to take into account for companies to narrow the gap immediately, but corporate cultures geared towards diversity and inclusion will surely lead the race towards progress.