Powering through is no longer an option, it’s time to make change happen

Last year was dubbed the ‘Year of the Girl’ but with marketing’s gender pay gap stuck at the 16% mark and women revealed to be taking on more additional responsibilities than men for no extra pay there is clearly still work to be done.

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Klaxon: According to the Marketing Week 2024 Career & Salary Survey, the gender pay gap has lessened. Yay!

Except it’s decreased by just 0.5 percentage points compared to equivalent figures for full-time workers last year. Importantly, it’s still precisely double the gender pay gap across all UK industries.

At the end of last year, my company sent out invitations to a glitzy party to celebrate the day models have projected eventual equal pay between British men and women. The party was scheduled for 2043. Plenty of time to choose what to wear, we joked. But that calculation, courtesy of the Fawcett Society, was based on the UK’s all-industry gap. If I get my calculator out and do the modelling for our own industry based on the currently glacial rate of progress…. Well, I can’t even.

Many outlets hailed 2023 as the ‘Year of the Girl’, with femininity returning to the runways (Sandy Liang), screens (Barbie), tables (girl dinner) and the rise and rise of that ultra girlhood icon, Taylor Swift. But while many of us spent last year outwardly celebrating womanhood in pop culture, something more insidious was brewing in the world of work.

‘Where’s the incentive?’: The impact of marketing’s persistent gender pay gap problem

An added gap

The 2024 Career & Salary Survey data revealed something darker about the nature of men’s and women’s work. Close to half (42.8%) of all women surveyed are taking on additional office responsibilities without appropriate remuneration, compared to 35.9% of men. They’re being asked to do more, for nothing, while already being paid less. Why would women even agree to that?

While many of us spent last year outwardly celebrating womanhood in pop culture, something more insidious was brewing in the world of work.

First, let’s face it – it’s not like we know we’re being paid less. Believe it, yes, but lack of pay transparency here means we often can’t quite prove that nagging suspicion.

Hopefully, that will change as the UK comes under pressure to align with the EU’s 2023 pay transparency directive. Regulations which mean from 2026, employers on the continent must comply with employee requests for data on their individual pay level and average pay levels, broken down by sex, for workers doing the same work (or work of equal value) as them.

Interestingly, the directive – which observers say UK employers would be well advised to voluntarily sync with given the likely impact on their ability to remain attractive to the best talent, as well as clients and investors – also helps to level the playing field when it comes to another contributing cause of the gender pay gap: confidence, and its influence on salary negotiating skills.

Marketers have a big opportunity to help fix the financial inclusion gap

Once the EU directive comes into full force, female employees who are entitled to the same fixed remuneration as their male colleagues but find one of those coworkers has negotiated a better salary will have the basis to make an unequal pay claim.

That, in my humble opinion, will be groundbreaking. Once – thanks to enforced pay transparency – women know for a fact we’ve been overlooked or undervalued financially, I think the chances we’ll take on extra responsibility for no extra pay will become increasingly slim.

Why training and community building matters

But while we can hope for legislative change in due course, which will help address some of the structural causes of the gender pay gap, marketing must also continue to work hard to empower women in the workplace. As I’ve discussed before, we know that women are less likely to self-promote, push for their own promotion, and less likely to be confident about their contributions to a task.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out how these tendencies play out if and when you’re asked to take on additional responsibilities with no extra pay. And that’s on top of women’s already disproportionate household mental load thanks to social conditioning that teaches us to ‘mother’. (It’s taken me literally years to de-programme myself so that I no longer automatically think I should be the one to offer to make tea for clients when they arrive at the office, for instance.)

Is it any wonder that research last month from Mental Health UK found that women were 5% more likely than men to have experienced extreme stress in 2023, and, echoing Marketing Week’s 2024 Career & Salary Survey, 7% were more likely to take on unpaid overtime or an increased workload. Worryingly, the study authors also highlighted women were less likely than men to believe they needed to take time off work due to poor mental health, suggesting pressure to just ‘power through’.

So let’s hear it for programmes like Creative Equals / Business – a programme and community I co-founded to help give women, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people in marketing and advertising the skills, confidence and network to take their next leadership step. With modules including crucial topics such as identifying strengths, building boundaries, quietening the inner critic, and building negotiation skills, initiatives like this will help to close the ‘do more, for nothing, while being paid less’ gender gap.

Let’s face it: It’s 10 years since Time named 2014 ‘the best year for women since the dawn of time’. Well, I think we can all agree the bar was low back then… We can and have to do better now.