Opinion

Three ways the UK could tackle the gender pay gap

5 min read

17 November 2015

Positive strides have been taken to increase the level of female representation on UK boards through Lord Davies’ government-backed annual review into gender equality in the boardroom. But while the prospect of more women on British boards championing the equal pay cause is a brilliant development, every organisation has the potential to change the status quo.

Here are the three main ways they can do this:

(1) Bolstering salaries and bonus transparency

We operate in a culture that still expects us to tip-toe around the subject of what we earn. This environment of secrecy breeds discontent and misinformation and must be one of the first things that organisations seek to change. Women working in target-based environments, for example, get paid if they make their numbers. But how can they know if what they are being paid is relative to their male colleagues who have the same work and same targets? And how does this lack of clarity make them feel?

Making salary and bonus information public within the business shows enlightenment on the part of management. Both women and men deserve insights into how pay is structured and related decisions are made. This opens up the opportunity for open and honest salary discussions and any concerns that arise from pay discrepancies to be addressed. Transparency alone won’t fix discrepancy overnight but it can achieve a great deal in helping the bigger equality cause. With momentum and collective effort, a sea-change is certainly possible.

(2) Better maternity processes

Women returning to work after having children have long found themselves on the down-side of income equality. Starting a family can set a mother on a path to lower earnings for a very long time, perhaps the rest of her working life. The pay gap only widens as women accept reduced salaries in line with reduced hours when they return to work. 

Companies with an equality mandate have a vital role to play in shifting the perception of maternity as a female concern to one where men and women share in the responsibility for contributing to a growing society at the most fundamental level. How can they do this? By offering flexible work options to working mothers that do not discriminate financially but rather reward them for their worth and effort in light of their multiple roles.

(3) Speaking up

The raft of Hollywood actresses who have spoken out recently on pay equality have helped enormously to give the issue a global platform once again. Women from all walks of life, however, can be equally powerful in voicing their concerns about workplace discrimination. Both as established professionals and upon entering the workforce, women deserve to feel confident about the value they deliver to their organisations and that they are being justly rewarded for their contribution. 

They must also feel that they can speak up about matters that concern them without being penalised. We have some way to go before we can say that pay inequality is a thing of the past but empowering young women to take a stand now will help move the issue in the right direction and inspire the next generation of working women.

The UK is a progressive society with widespread willing to level the playing field between men and women through a fairer approach to pay. Companies who want to recruit women with the same qualifications and level of experience as men must be prepared to compensate them appropriately, as well as support them to build families and campaign for equal working rights. 

By promoting their actions with respect to pay clarity, employers who genuinely back an equitable system will be recognised for their forward-thinking attitude and inspire other companies to follow suit. Importantly too, they’ll become desirable places to work for women and men alike, attracting the best of each.

Lisa Forrester is director of GCS Recruitment.

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