Is the gender pay gap an HR or PR problem?

Gender pay gap reporting has allowed organisations to demonstrate that diverse cultures are winning cultures. What are the opportunities for HR professionals to address gender pay gaps? 

As Fabian Society writer and campaigner Barbara Leigh Hutchins wrote in 1902, ‘It is strange to notice how very little the position of the woman worker has been improved in recent years.’ Following the intense media focus earlier this year when over 10,000 organisations published their gender pay gap, it’s hard to believe that this statement still paints an accurate picture of the ‘woman worker’ over 100 years later. 

Why has little progress been made and in some cases why are women paid 75% less than their male colleagues? These were just some of the questions raised in a passionate, insightful and often deeply frustrating conversation about the gender pay gap. At the latest Future of Work leader’s forum, powered by the CIPD and Jericho Chambers, we explored what we need to do next to tackle this huge problem and create enduring change. 

Here are just a few of the insights shared during this lively discussion: 

Media spin really helped get it out there

Despite what might have been reported and portrayed by the media, there was general consensus around the table that the coverage generated and created the space for challenging, but necessary conversations. However, there was also an argument that with so many organisations publishing at the same time, it became easy to hide amongst the big stories coming out of major news outlets and multinational companies. There was slight disappointment from many in the room that next year this wouldn’t be such a big story in the media. We shouldn’t need headlines to address this issue, but it has certainly helped. 

Don't blame a flawed methodology

Many organisations and individuals have taken a defensive approach, blaming their results on a flawed methodology. We have also seen a number of companies publish the wrong gap, with some reporting a mean and median gap of zero – which is statistically impossible. In order to really address the issue, organisations need to explain the journey that they will undertake, summarise their philosophy, set out what they are going to achieve and be upfront by acknowledging the weaknesses that currently exist. There is no quick fix to this problem and initiatives put in place such as leadership programmes and talent pipelines will take time to deliver results. It was acknowledged that HR have a key role to play, going forward. We need to move away from paying people the minimum – we know women are less likely to negotiate and do so in different ways, and we shouldn’t set them up on the back foot from the start. 

An opportunity, not just a challenge

We now have the opportunity to really get under the skin of the problem, figure out what is actually working and shout about it. Organisations have the opportunity to showcase that diverse cultures are winning cultures and we need to learn to celebrate difference. Here at the CIPD we will continue to connect with each other and help to find solutions that will live long after the headlines have faded. We have a commitment to keep the narrative going and provide the tools and support to help organisations and people professionals deal with this issue. 

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