By Katy Adalar, communications manager at the CIPD.
An equal world is an enabled world. That’s the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day (next Sunday, 8 March) – a day to celebrate women’s achievements and promote gender equality.
Women’s role in business and society is certainly more valued today than it was in 1911, when we celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time. But the race is still on for gender equality in our board rooms, governments, media coverage, workplaces and more.
In just over four weeks’ time, every employer in the UK with more than 250 employees will have published their gender pay gap data for the third year (if you haven’t done yours yet, check out our six simple steps to gender pay gap reporting). The data will no doubt tell a tale of two halves: I’m optimistic we’ll see some good news stories about employers taking their responsibility for closing the gap seriously; but there’ll almost certainly be concerns that overall progress is still too slow.
The persistent gender pay gap in the UK (and most parts of the world), is a stark reminder that the gender equal workplace remains out of reach. And it doesn’t just tell us that women earn less than men (on average), it tells us that businesses – and even whole industries and sectors – are missing out on female talent. Women are better qualified than ever before, yet over her career, the average woman can expect to earn almost a quarter of a million pounds less than the average man. And, according to PWC, eighty-five per cent of female millennials surveyed said an employer’s policy on diversity, equality and workforce inclusion was important when deciding whether or not to work for an employer. But their expectations are not always met: 71% feel that while organisations talk about diversity, opportunities are not really equal for all.
So, what can we do about it? And whose responsibility is it anyway?
The #eachforequal theme for International Women’s Day is based on the notion that individual actions all have an impact, and collectively we can make change happen. When it comes to closing the gender pay gap and creating gender-equal workplaces, there is no silver bullet; it’ll take the sustained and collective actions of individuals, managers, people professionals, employers and entire industries. So where do we start?
Five key causes of the gender pay gap
To answer the question ‘where do we start?’, we must first understand what causes the gender pay gap. It will vary from organisation to organisation but, according to the CIPD’s gender pay gap reporting guide, the overall gap comes down to a combination of five factors:
What role can HR teams play?
Not only do HR teams hold the workforce data that will help organisations identify what’s causing their pay gap, but there are also three key areas of people practice that directly impact your organisation’s gender pay gap. Reward is perhaps the most obvious one but just (if not more) important are recruitment and flexible working practices – both of which have a huge bearing on whether or not women join an organisation or industry, and their likelihood of progressing to senior roles within those organisations or industries.
1) Recruitment and progression
Many gender pay gaps arise because of the differences in the types of roles men and women are recruited to do, and the rates at which they progress in those roles.
It’s therefore worth reviewing recruitment and progression in your organisation to see what might be contributing to your gender pay gap:
2) Flexible working and family leave
Because women are still more likely than men to take on unpaid caring responsibilities, a lack of flexible working can prevent women from applying for certain roles or moving up the career ladder. Family leave and flexible working arrangements should not be focused on getting more women into more part-time roles, but on giving parents more choice over how they split caring responsibilities and making flexible working genuinely available for all, at all levels.
To understand your gender pay gap, review your flexible working policies and uptake:
3) Pay and benefits
Although gender pay gaps are not usually caused by (illegal) unequal pay for equal work, it’s worth reviewing your pay practices for any unintended discrimination.
Start by asking:
Will we ever close the gap?
With so many factors contributing to the gender pay gap, it’s clear to see that closing it won’t be easy and won’t happen overnight. But we mustn’t be disheartened by slow progress or, in some cases, widening gaps.
Employers need to remember that even those factors that may seem outside of their direct control are their responsibility too – if we take a collective and long-term view, we can and should close the gap. Understanding the causes of your gender pay gap is an important first-step, and will help you create a narrative to accompany your data and an action plan for closing the gap (follow our gender pay gap reporting countdown on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for more advice on that in the coming weeks).
Is it all worth the effort? I certainly think so. The actions we take to close the gender pay gap will not just help create equality, but they’ll help us create better work and working lives all round – for the benefit of individuals, businesses, economies and society. After all, women make up around half the talent pool, so attracting, retaining and enabling them to reach their full potential is central to future success.
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