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How the media covered the centenary of suffrage

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How the media covered the centenary of suffrage

As we hope most people who read our blogs would have noticed, this week marked the centenary of women first gaining the right to vote. At Atlas we were happy to see the media, rightly, make a big deal of this important anniversary, although the contrast in approach told us a lot about media priorities.

The event featured heavily on the front pages, with features from The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sun and The i, all focusing on different aspects of what it means 100 years on. The Telegraph displayed a historic photo of Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney next to a headline saying that Suffragette’s should be pardoned posthumously. The Sun advertised their 8-page special, celebrating 100 years of the women’s vote, with a photo of a women in lingerie. We weren’t quite sure of the relevance, but given The Sun’s reputation, it’s almost a surprise that they didn’t bring back Page 3 nipples for the day.

In stark contrast, Time Out put thank you messages at the front and centre of their issue, with an article on 63 women helping to change perceptions today, who thanked the heroines that led the way before them. Amongst those expressing their gratitude were Diane Abbott, Sophie Walker, Laura Bates and Gemma Arterton. Stylist went one further and dedicated their whole issue to ‘Celebrating 100 years of Women’s Suffrage’, brandishing the phrase “let's finish what they started” on the front of the magazine – in an issue that for some will be a collector’s item. They linked the past of the Suffragette movement to current issues of the pay gap and online abuse and showed that the best way of honouring those women is to look to the future.

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With a focus on looking forwards, The Guardian had five writers share their views on whether they think we will have gender parity 100 years from now. Margaret Atwood and Lola Okolosie argued that equality will rely on progress in the workplace, such as when becoming a mother does not set back a person's earnings or career. Polly Toynbee wasn’t confident about equality being easy to achieve. She said recent events such as the #MeToo movement and the end of grid girls in Formula One were important but were just small steps of which there need to be many more.

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One of these steps was noticed in our office, when Tuesday’s Today Programme had an all female show to commemorate the centenary. It’s currently noteworthy when female voices take centre stage, but this will change as we deal with the issues of mistreatment and lack of representation of women in the media. Many people found it a refreshing change, much to the annoyance of Ross Clark who complained in The Spectator that the programme “has become Woman’s Hour”. The next day Jo Swinson, spurred on by this display of sisterhood, asked John Humphrys if he had apologised to Carrie Gracie following his leaked conversation about her. Humphrys’ grumpy reaction had most commentators praising Swinson for her boldness.

Theresa May told aspiring female politicians they do not need to be “a stereotype of a man” as she talked about the increased abuse that particularly women politicians face. Unfortunately, as we have bemoaned before, the increasing number of female MPs has been matched by an uptick in threats, particularly due to the rise of social media. On Tuesday, many commentators responded to this, saying we need to make women feel comfortable “sticking their heads above the parapets” as the Suffragette’s once did. Hopefully before we reach bicentenary, women putting themselves in the public eye won’t need to be described with a metaphor about war!

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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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