Now is our best chance to eradicate the gender pay gap

Marketing Week research suggests marketing’s gender pay gap is decreasing, but not fast enough. The way to end it for good is to take advantage of today’s unique opportunity and make flexible working commonplace.

Happy International Women’s Day.

As regular readers will know, IWD is one of my favourite days of the year. Thanks to my feminist parents, it has been a red letter day in the Joseph family for as long as I can remember. We give each other cards and gifts, and recently started sharing playlists.

It is an opportunity for us to rededicate ourselves to campaigning for gender equality and to remember and celebrate the women in our lives, and those who have gone before us who have made a difference. The mother who raised you, the boss who gave you a break, the woman who fell under a horse so other women could vote. So much better than Mothers’ Day. I love it.

I also love that IWD is celebrated now more widely. But, as regular readers will also know, I have a very low tolerance level for individuals and brands who have jumped aboard the good ship IWD, but aren’t doing anything to support women.

You know who I mean: the politician who has consistently voted against toughening domestic violence sentencing, posting a picture of himself giving a bunch of flowers to his wife; or the brand that decides to use IWD to sell one of its ‘one for the ladies’ products. I mean, nothing says happy International Women’s Day more than a pink pen or a skimpy pair of knickers.

Shrink the pay gap

My advice to organisations wanting to support women is to actually support women. Work to bring about gender equality in your business.

I have been campaigning recently with WACL and the Fawcett Society to press the government to restore mandatory reporting of the gender pay gap (GPG) for large companies – a requirement that was lifted during the pandemic. I am pleased to say the government has now yielded and mandatory reporting returns in October.

Flexible working will only become commonplace when men start doing it. We know that men want to, from survey after survey.

Of course, there is nothing to stop organisations publishing their data ahead of the deadline. I know it is only a snapshot of an organisation. I know it is an immensely complex issue and the past year – with so many people on short hours, furloughed, reduced pay and the rest – has made it even more complicated.

But the GPG is a public and visible marker. And more important than the marker itself is the plan that responsible organisations (organisations you might want to work for, engage with, invest in) will have to eliminate their gaps. Not just a declaration of support for women but a robust, costed action plan with stretch deadlines and regular reporting.

I strongly believe transparency forces change. And in our sector, we are beginning to see it. Figures from Marketing Week’s 2021 Career and Salary Survey reveal that the average gap across the sector is 23%, down from 28% last year. We are making progress but not nearly quickly enough for my liking.

So how do you accelerate the pace of change? For most organisations it is simply put: employ more women in more senior roles and remunerate them properly. And remember women can do more than HR, communications and marketing.

Promote flexible working

One of the single biggest interventions an organisation can take to reduce the gender pay gap is to promote and actively support flexible working. There are lots of models to choose from: where you work, how you work your hours. Whatever it is, it needs to work for both the employer and the employee. Dozens of studies have demonstrated that where women are given the opportunity to work flexibly, they stay in the workplace, seek career advancement and increase their salaries.

I have always believed flexible working will only become commonplace when men start doing it.

We know that men want to, from survey after survey, but they don’t take it up. One reason is fear of the impact on their careers, and you can hardly blame them because they have witnessed what impact it has had on the progression of their female counterparts.

But what if we started measuring performance and rewarding people not on time spent in the office but on the quality of work produced?

Want to know what you’re worth? Marketing pay in 2021 revealed

If men and women saw that flexible working was not a bar to opportunity and advancement, I am sure we would see more people taking it up.

I know managing resource is challenging but surely in our industry we should be able to embrace this kind of challenge? The rewards would be huge: a more motivated and engaged gender-diverse workforce.

I would love to think that one of the few good things to have come out of the past year is a changed attitude to flexible working and that, as restrictions lift and we see a return to the workplace, organisations think more carefully about how they organise their people, and in so doing help bring about gender equality.