How persistent barriers are still hindering women's careers
We know that we can make business better by inspiring women. Yet still we ignore them.
We’ve all heard the theory. The professional world is changing. Long-standing barriers around race, class, religion, sexuality and gender are being broken down. Organisations have woken up to the fact that work environments that are hostile to any particular group are shutting themselves off from valuable talent pools and harming the long-term growth of their business. You’d better believe it! But actually it seems that we don’t.
More than 40 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970, research published by CMI this summer found that female managers are still earning only three-quarters as much as their male colleagues for doing the same job. What’s worse, discrepancies in salaries widen as seniority increases.
The research findings didn’t surprise me. The report found very few examples of best – or even acceptable – practice across the FTSE 350 and reminded us that the equality, diversity and inclusion programmes and other efforts at inspiring women have a long way to go before they are no longer required elements of the management agenda.
Of course, there are some who are offering leadership in this area. I’ve worked with several firms in the past few years who are waking up to the severity of the challenge, and the importance of getting it right. And that begins with visibility. Tesco, as is well documented, publishes data on its pay gap, which stands at 1% compared with the UK average of 10%. Another example is law firm Linklaters, which reveals the percentages of women it employs at different levels of the company. These techniques are by no means the complete solution, but raising awareness of the inherent inequality so prevalent across businesses of all sizes is certainly the starting point.
Sadly, organisations willing to disclose are the exception, not the rule. And, for every company I’ve consulted that is alive to the challenges and opportunities of creating a representative and equal workplace, there are those who are blind to it.
But they need to crack this, and do it fast. In the 21st century, businesses with a monocultural identity will struggle to adapt, innovate and grow. Equal pay is critical in enabling women to achieve the same status, benefit and influence on UK business as their male counterparts. Only this year, I did some work with a media company who – among other issues – were struggling to penetrate the growing female gaming market. I spent two days with the senior management team, all of whom were male.
Clearly, there is still a lot more to do to achieve true equality in the workplace. But those who aren’t doing anything about it are sleepwalking into irrelevance. An investment in addressing equality will pay dividends.