Diversity, Inclusion, Gender Equality, Gender Pay Gap

Time to Talk about the Gender Pay Gap

Six months on from International Women’s Day I don’t think anyone would have predicted how radical the shift in how we do our work and where we do our work, would be. I certainly never imagined how quickly the world as we knew it would change and the impact this would have on all our lives and on our personal and professional priorities.

I was reflecting on our own International Women’s day event at the Republic of Work Cork, with the fantastic panel of inspirational women (Dr. Liz Kyte, UCC, Elaine Higgins, De Puy Synthesis, Rachel Maher O’Brien, McAfee) and amazing participants who were in attendance. On a wet and windy March morning – with a 7:30 am kick off, we robustly discussed the challenges faced by women and heard about the progressive steps organisations were taking to accelerate females in STEM, IT, Education and business in general.

The mood of confidence, determination and grit in the room was palpable. LinkedIn, Twitter and the news cycle was filled with posts of commitment and affirmation to support #IWD2020, #EachforEqual. And with the blink of an eye the call for gender equity and narrowing the gap of pay, pension, access to senior roles, access to investment funding and seed capital for females all but disappeared. Understandably so, as the reality of the Covid-19 Tsunami hit us.

The Impact of Covid-19

However, I believe even more so now in the context of Covid-19 the pressing imperative of narrowing the gender pay gap needs to be addressed. Research has shown that women have been disproportionally affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, with approximately 70% of frontline workers and part-time workers being female and the majority of women taking on home schooling and caring responsibilities of children and the elderly, women have become more vulnerable to the negative associated effects of the pandemic. It is easy to see how quickly gender inequity gets exacerbated, not only in terms of pay but also in terms of access to opportunities and the ability to maintain career progression. It is a cycle that we as business leaders have a responsibility to break.

The EU gender pay gap stands at 16%, Ireland fares slightly better at 14%. Pre-Covid research from the World Economic Forum estimated that it would be 250 years before women achieved true gender equality, undoubtedly this gap has widened yet again.

A Solution Focused Approach

What can we do ? Firstly, this needs our collective focus and to be on our collective agenda. Not just on March 8th every year, as that’s just lip service. It needs to become a key priority for business, if they are serious about attracting and retaining female talent. We all know that equality for women is equality for all and given the negative impact of Covid-19 on women, this needs to be a priority for business – to narrow that gap and not allow it to widen. And I believe it can be done. The time is now.

A great example of what can be achieved against a backdrop of ‘No’ and a complexity of legacy issues is to shift our focus to what the health care system achieved in the early weeks of the pandemic.  Having listened to politicians forever arguing that our health system could not be fixed overnight and how the public and private sector could not work as one and agree terms, seemingly overnight, with focus and necessity mountains were moved and agreements reached and although imperfect, crisis averted. Solution focused thinking in action.

As business leaders and owners we pivoted our businesses overnight. Employees who had never been allowed to work remotely did so with success, seemingly with the stroke of a brush. We responded effectively and efficiently because it was a priority and we had to and whilst it’s not all perfect, it’s a whole lot better than what the alternative was. Imagine what could be achieved if we applied the same focus and solution focused thinking to gender inequity.

We need to make this a priority for everybody. Depressingly, the percentage of women in policy and decision-making roles in Ireland has dropped with men significantly outnumbering women. The composition of our recent government tells us that. It’s not enough to wait for women in strategic roles to drive change, we need everybody to take this up.

What Businesses Can Do

  • Allow flexible working for all – if men are encouraged to also participate in flexible, part-time working it becomes more acceptable for both women and men.
  • Publish remuneration policies to introduce transparency – transparency means the conversations that need to happen, will happen
  • Publish promotion and talent management strategy with information on key competencies required for managerial positions, this provides transparency
  • Encourage cross functional rotational assignments. Often women are overlooked for promotion as they are seen to lack strategic experience – this will also help address the dearth of women at senior decision-making level and the perceived problem that women can’t negotiate.
  • Implement a mentoring programme in place for all staff. Mentoring has proven benefits from both the mentee’s and mentors perspective. Encourage men and women to mentor each other, thus providing perspective on how each gender experiences the workplace.
  • Provide support to women before, during and after maternity leave. One of the biggest challenges for women is the associated problems that come with having non-linear careers. They ‘ramp on’ and ‘ramp off’ for caring responsibilities.
  • Address Unconscious Bias with your teams, on an individual level– there are many innovative programmes and ways of creating awareness so that we can understand our own biases.
  • Address Unconscious Bias at an Organisational Level. Completing D&I audits of your policies and procedures; from Talent Acquisition to Talent Management can help position you better to address how gender inequity is being perpetuated within your organisation. This will also attract a more diverse talent pool
  • Provide Female Leadership Development programmes for all women in your organisation, modified to suit each particular stage of career. Don’t just focus on the  Hi-Po’s.
  • Make Diversity & Inclusion and your Pay Gap a KPI as you would any other important measure. Senior leaders need to be held accountable for it.  If you are not measuring it, you’re not prioritising it and you won’t be improving it.
  • Finally, if we are to break the cycle of gender inequity that perpetuates the gender pay gap, we have a responsibility as women, men and business leaders to continually work on this – particularly in times of crises.

We need not wait until March 8th, 2021 international Women’s Day to see businesses proclaim their commitment to gender equality, we need to do it now and we need it to come from an authentic place so that it remains as a priority on our strategic agenda.

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