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The Pay Gap Crescendo: A Year in the Headlines

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The Pay Gap Crescendo: A Year in the Headlines

The Gender Pay Gap filled the headlines in the lead up to April 5th, with barely a day going by without the media putting a company and their data in the spotlight. Whilst it was impossible to avoid in that final run up, we’ve been reading, tweeting and obsessing about what good looks like, who’s got it wrong, and what we can do to help for a lot longer than a month or two. Here’s our look back at the inaugural year of the Gender Pay Gap, how it went down, and what we’ve seen.

 

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Whilst over 10,000 companies revealed their pay gap data this year, there is one that seemed to get more criticism than any other - the BBC. The ONS puts the UK’s average pay gap as 18.4%, so the BBC’s median gap of 9.7% is significantly below that, and better than the majority of media companies. Despite that, they have received more criticism than any other organisation with a significant Pay Gap. Why is that?

One factor is the high profile nature of their employees, with Gary Lineker, John Humphrys and Chris Evans all topping the highest paid roster. Recognisable names and faces mean it is easier to criticise them and create a story that will grab the public’s attention. When Victoria Derbyshire, Clare Balding and Mishal Husain spoke up in September, their names helped maintain the scrutiny. In our experience, the reaction of staff was the number one concern of companies reporting – whether they were positive or not.

The BBC has always received criticism from all angles, whether left or right. Justified or not, the rest of the media were happy to put the organisation in their scopes as soon as the differences in pay for men and women became apparent. Most of the media left their own revelations until the final month, so whilst the results from ITV, The FT, The Telegraph and The Guardian all created discussion and debate, it never matched the intensity of criticism the BBC received.

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WOMEN MADE AS MANY HEADLINES

There were some real clangers throughout the year, such as John Humphrys being recorded disparaging Carrie Gracie after she stepped down, and the Presidents Club Dinner, which led to revelations of shocking behaviour at an annual charity event. Both events caused media storms and reminded people of the problematic behaviours and challenging attitudes that women still face in their careers, and how this effects the pay gap.

But women were front and centre of just as many headlines. Throughout the year celebrities drove the news agenda. Stars such as Emma Stone, Oprah, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain all opened up about being underpaid in Hollywood and what needed to change. Despite people frequently conflating equal pay issues and the gender pay gap, it was encouraging to see the message break through that more needed to be done to support women across all industries. By April 2018 positive stories and calls to action, such as EasyJet’s efforts to improve their pay gap, were gaining as much attention as the scandals and outrage.

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THE STORY GREW BIGGER AND BIGGER

Big stories on the Pay Gap broke consistently throughout the last 12 months, but only in 2018 did the peaks became more frequent. Furthermore, discussion of the pay gap outside of these peaks increased in the early months of 2018. Our graph below shows that for the month before the deadline, Pay Gap news dominated the headlines far more often than not, reaching a fever pitch on the final day. The numbers themselves tell the story. In March, 7,375 UK stories ran with “Pay Gap” in their title, over five times more than in February. And the numbers for April reveal a 40 percent drop in pay gap reporting. What this shows, however, is that Gender Pay Gap reporting has persisted following the deadline, hopefully suggesting a lasting shift in the prevalence of the pay gap conversation. 

So interest in the gender pay gap has grown over the last year. The language of the pay gap debate has also spread, becoming part of some journalist’s everyday scrutiny of companies. Consistent reporting on the issue from all the major newspapers, accompanied by useful guides such as this one, are helping to build understanding. Whilst we know that 78% of organisations pay men more, year one saw most organisations and articles at pains to clarify that a pay gap did not mean an equal pay issue. To a degree that was inevitable, and at least it means we can hopefully put the ‘Gender Pay Gap is a myth’ arguments to bed.

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SO WHAT NOW?

If year one was the start of the conversation, what does the future look like for pay gap reporting? Year two will undoubtedly peel the next layer of the onion. Organisations will be tested against their own rhetoric. Worsening numbers will drive the biggest headlines. In terms of plans – once a women’s network is set up and there’s been unconscious bias training for all – where will companies go?

This isn’t a ‘girls jobs’ to fix, and it is illusionary to think that the argument should only be concerned with women’s choice over their lifestyles. As men become more aware of the problem, having to collect and address the stark facts, they too can help.

Part of the future of Pay Gap reporting needs to be concerned with the workplace stereotypes that remain frustratingly persistent. The same unhelpful gender stereotypes that teach girls to be polite and helpful, not pushy or bossy, also teach boys not to cry. These dangerous stereotypes should not be overlooked when searching for solutions, meaning a focus on mental health support at work and shared parental leave for male managers are just as important as affordable childcare and negotiable skills for women in the executive pipeline.

If you need help planning for gender pay gap 2019 – get in touch now.

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Gender Pay Gap: mistakes you won't want to make

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Gender Pay Gap: mistakes you won't want to make

It’s now been almost two years since the Government made it a legal requirement that large firms (i.e. those with more than 250 employees) would need to report on their gender pay gaps in April 2018. Despite this, people are continuing to make mistakes and failing to understand what it's about, what people want to hear, and most critically, what you shouldn’t be caught saying. Here we highlight some of these very public mistakes people have made.

 

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HUMPHRYS HAS A HUFF

This month, Radio 4s John Humphrys was recorded off air with Jon Sopel, the BBC’s North America Editor, saying: “She’s actually suggested that you should lose money; you know that don’t you?”. He was of course referring to Carrie Gracie’s move to step down as BBC China Editor and published an open letter explaining her decision. This was a blatant misrepresentation of Grace’s reasonable request that the BBC “set in place an equal, fair and transparent pay structure”, not that she would ride in like a feminist Robin Hood and redistribute Jon Sopel’s salary.

Humphrys made the mistake of failing to listen to what women in the BBC had to say about the pay gap, and the backlash against his comments shows how careful individuals must be to think before saying something that doesn’t reflect the true facts; especially people as high profile as John Humphrys. Continued calls for him to lose his job should give ample warning that organisations need to understand the issue properly and be prepared to provide answers on what they are doing to address the pay gap.

 

TOM TALKS RUBBISH

Tom Chambers, Casualty actor and novice on the gender pay gap, came out with a few choice quotes last summer on the topic. He managed to explain away the pay gap with commentary right out of the 1950’s, saying “Many men's salaries aren't just for them, it's for their wife and children, too”.

Clearly he was unaware that in modern Britain women are often the breadwinners and his explanation proved to be unpopular with the countless women whose salaries aren't “just for them” yet still suffer from a significant pay gap of 9.1%.

If companies want to avoid having to backtrack on comments like Tom’s, it is important that concerns aren’t addressed with outdated myths. Organisations need to be able to do better than our actors and presenters, and provide a good reason when explaining any gender pay gap.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA MISSES THE POINT

Search the phrases ‘gender pay gap’ or ‘equal pay’ on Twitter and it doesn’t take long to find a handful of tweets full of incorrect information, missing the point by a mile. Sweeping statements describing the pay gap as a “discredited nonsense theory” or a “made up lie” aren’t a compelling argument against what is a clear worldwide trend.

Another frequently made point is that the pay gap isn’t significant because “Men earn more on average, but this is because they chose higher paying professions”, ignores that even within specific careers, such as medicine, pay gaps as high as 30% exist. The mistakes these tweets highlight is that it’s not just about equal pay for equal work (which is already illegal), but that there are concerns that senior leadership positions are still overwhelmingly male and this raises questions around the limitations of career progression for women.

 

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

With less than 10 weeks to go until the report deadline on the 5th April 2018, communications professionals need to be asking HR and legal colleagues for their company’s gender pay gap figures. There may be a need for external support to create a suitable internal and external communications campaign and avoid the aforementioned pitfalls.

As you might expect from a company who were there when the regulations were passed, we hope the obligation to release pay gap figures will be treated not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. Whilst we’ve highlighted what people have done wrong, there are plenty who have got it right – and we’d love to help you get it right too. It's important you say the right thing and show what you’ve been doing to address the pay gap. By doing this you can present your brand as forward thinking and compassionate, and you could reap positive headlines from staff and consumers alike.

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Mind the Pay Gap: A Reputational Iceberg

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Mind the Pay Gap: A Reputational Iceberg

When we talk to communications professionals about the challenges posed by gender pay gap revelations, initial reactions are often dismissive. “It is an HR issue”, they tell us. “Our legal team are already on it”, they assure us. Here at Atlas, we recognise that preparing for gender pay gap reporting goes beyond HR and legal. As the BBC coverage demonstrates, it is a serious reputational issue.

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