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“Lies, damn lies and statistics” and the gender pay gap


“Lies, damn lies and statistics” and the gender pay gap

When I talk to my dad about the gender pay gap, this is his go-to phrase. Falsely attributed to Disraeli, popularised by Mark Twain, the expression was originally coined by radical liberal Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke in 1891, or possibly not.

According to last week’s second annual publication deadline, 78% of firms pay men more than women. And yet my dad will insist there is no such thing as the gender pay gap. It is a statistical creation, a false metric that allows women to feel hard done by. He will go on to argue that the only form of discrimination is income inequality and, while that has been dramatically widening (he worries) it does not affect women more than men.

My dad is rarely wrong. But on this one he is suffering from a particularly acute case of white male unthinking, deriving his opinion from his own perception (a world where his wife and daughter are treated and valued entirely equally, and his mother and grandmother called all the shots). He assumes his experience is a truth that should be universally acknowledged.

When I commented on Helena Morrissey’s excellent post about the GPG on LinkedIn the response was less polite than the debates my dad and I have… John K from San Diego asked “what about the societal expectation that men should work hard and provide for their families, die younger, perform the dangerous jobs? Shove it sweetheart, we ain’t buying your misandrist crap any more. You and your screeching fellow man hating harpies have ruined the narrative.” Which is something of a surprise to read on a professional networking site. Although it turns out that John is not alone, depressingly nearly half (46%) of American men believe that the gender pay gap is made up for political purposes.

Trolling aside, just because it is a crude metric, doesn’t mean it cannot tell us something meaningful and powerful. What it does not tell us is that women are paid less than their peers. Nor does it tell us that “women should just be more confident and ask for a pay rise” (again my dad). My mum once met my old boss, whereupon he launched into a volley of praise for my performance at work. “Don’t clap, throw money” was her zinging response. She and I, and in fact women in general, don’t have a problem asking for more money. The research shows we are simply less likely to get a positive response to that ask.

Of the 9,961 companies which had filed by 5pm on 4 April, 44% had improved or narrowed their pay gap. On the flipside, 40% of reporting firms saw a growing or widening pay gap. This is not surprising considering that the data being reported is already a year old, so the plans published last year could not possibly have come into effect for this year’s data. Some commentators have suggested those with “good news” to tell should be scrutinised for potentially gaming the system. Whereas those whose gaps have got wider might be investing in the future by hiring lots of young, lower paid women, who will eventually make their way through the ranks.


The great Brexit distraction

So now that we have had a chance to review the numbers published last week, what have we learned?

Last year, we predicted that worsening numbers would drive the biggest headlines ahead of the second anniversary. This proved to be the case for HSBC, KPMG and EasyJet, but the biggest difference was actually in the volume of coverage. If like us you have been trying to engage journalists in any story at all over recent months, or simply regularly consume the news, you will know why: Brexit is dominating the agenda to the exclusion of all else.

In March 2018, 7,375 UK stories ran with “Pay Gap” in their title, in March 2019 there were just 1,280, an 80% reduction in media coverage. There was more of a focus on specific sectors, with health, universities and financial services driving the biggest stories.

The outraged scrutiny of the BBC’s gender pay gap looks somewhat hypocritical when you compare their numbers to the rest of the media industry.

The outraged scrutiny of the BBC’s gender pay gap looks somewhat hypocritical when you compare their numbers to the rest of the media industry.

Media companies themselves also had to report on their gender pay gaps, but funnily enough those didn’t drive too many headlines. Two years in a row the BBC actually had the second smallest gender pay gap in the sector, not that you’d know it.

The most improved award goes to the Daily Express who narrowed their median gap from 19 to 14.6 per cent. Hats off to Press Association for demonstrating that a pay gap in the media is not inevitable.


Call in the spin doctors?

If transparency leads to bad headlines, who do you call? As we highlighted last year, not all spin doctors are equal when it comes to equality. Very few PR consultancies are required to publish their gap, only 4% of PRCA member firms are large enough that they fall under the regulations. However, the last PRCA Census showed that between 2016 and 2018, the gender pay gap actually increased in the PR industry, growing from 17.8% to 21%. So what credentials can you look for in an advisor?

Well, walking the walk is a start. And the picture here is as murky as the national one. FTI Consulting, reported the largest pay gap, at 32.2 per cent median. But put this down to “providing services beyond PR that are historically male-dominated”. Edelman’s gap last year was 10% and their rhetoric was frankly rubbish, so it’s no surprise so see their gap widen to 13.4%, worse still their bonus pay gap has gone up from 44% to 73%.

As with media, a pay gap in PR is not inevitable. We are a small firm of just 12 so our numbers are easily skewed by individuals, but our median pay gap is 24% in favour of women, up from 5.6% last year. The median gender pay gap at Golin has risen to 7.7 per cent in favour of women, up from 4.6 per cent last year. The same is true for Hill and Knowlton, in 2018 they reported a 3.9% median gap in favour of men, this year that has switched to a 2.36% gap in favour of women.


Reputation vs productivity

So spin doctors may or may not be able to help you with a reputation challenge from the gender pay gap. But what is sad is that this is definitely the box it seems to fall into in the minds of management. We should be investing in diversity to make our businesses more productive – not simply to look equal.  As Harvard Business Review explains diverse teams are more likely to re-examine facts and remain objective. They encourage greater scrutiny of each member’s actions, keeping their joint cognitive resources sharp and vigilant, thereby reducing risk. Hiring people who do not look, talk, or think like you, may feel less comfortable but it means you avoid the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovation. Time and again studies find that equality is good for business performance, but we still don’t act like we believe those findings.


No plan, no action?

Many firms did not publish a plan of action alongside their numbers, which means we shouldn’t expect to see meaningful progress any time soon. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) - which enforces the gender pay gap rules - said that forcing companies to report their pay gaps was not enough to eliminate pay disparities.

On a more personal level, this isn’t a ‘girls job’ to fix, and it is illusory 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 as powerful agents for change.

Part of the future of Pay Gap reporting needs to be concerned with the workplace stereotypes that remain frustratingly persistent. As I wrote last week, some of this is about a parenting penalty at work. But it starts even before childcare becomes an issue, according to the Government’s graduate earnings survey, men earn more than women at all stages in the decade after graduation, with male earnings 8% higher after just one year, 15% after five years and 31% higher at 10 years after graduation.

The same unhelpful gender stereotypes that teach girls to be polite and helpful, not pushy or bossy, also teach boys not to cry. These attitudes and behaviours 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 negotiation skills for women in the executive pipeline.

If you need help planning for gender pay gap 2020 – we’d love to hear from you.


Comcast reaches for the Sky


Comcast reaches for the Sky

A new twist in the ongoing tussle for ownership of Sky has seen shares of the company soar as media titan Comcast placed a £22 billion bid for the company. Last week’s surprise news triggered a takeover battle with Murdoch owned 21st Century Fox that looks likely to rival only Nedal vs Federer in length, complexity and sheer resilience. Yet with gold and silver medals at the Jewish Olympics, does the CEO of Comcast Brian Roberts hold the advantage point across the pond?

Comcast's offer has firmly placed a cat amongst the proverbial pigeons, coming after 2 years of merger talks between Fox and Sky that have been plagued by the red tape of political consent. Only last month, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found the Murdoch bid “incompatible with public interest due to a lack of media plurality,” following intervention from (then) Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley. 


What calls for such intervention? 

The Murdoch empire already owns a third of British media under News Corp and 39% of Sky. Regulatory forces are set against further expansion; suggesting a full take-over of Sky could threaten the diversity of media opinion and leave an ever-increasing portion of the British media subject to the Murdoch agenda. 

Anne Lambert, chair of the CMA highlighted that "media plurality goes to the heart of our democratic process. It is very important that no group or individual should have too much control of our news media or too much power to affect the political agenda." Dare we mention Brexit, Trump or #fakenews? What appears in the headlines of our leading media outlets has always had the power to sway hearts and minds, of both voters and those who they elect to represent them. Potential for increased corporate involvement behind the scenes should inspire no truly democratic society. 

Enter Comcast, the NBC and Dreamworks owner, which is hoping to “use Sky as a platform for growth.” Shrek and Kung Fu Panda are planning their takeover of Europe, and this fairy-tale idea is being well received. On Tuesday 27th February Sky’s share price rose from £2.10 to £13.10, overtaking the Comcast bid of £12.50. The exact share prices matter less than what this reaction indicates, a clear excitement in the market over the deal. Heavy investment in NBC also signals support for its potential to retain and invest in Sky - Comcast is scoring points over Murdoch.

Fox’s 39% ownership of Sky adds complexity to this ongoing saga. Excluding Fox shareholders, the threshold is set at 81% for Comcast to gain the controlling interest in the firm. With Murdoch’s bid raising political risks and threats to media plurality it could well be game, set and match to Comcast. 


But why does media plurality matter? 

Media plurality hardly sets pulses racing down the pub, so why should PRs or politicians care? Ownership itself shouldn’t cause concern, provided editorial integrity and diversity of voices in our media sources is kept intact… so what else could be going on? 

Last Thursday, under a blanket of snow, Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirmed that the Leveson inquiry would go no further. The second stage of the process was set to consider the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International and other media outlets, and assess police conduct in investigations. 

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Tom Watson called the move “a disappointment, a breach of trust and a bitter blow to the victims of press intrusion.” Matt Hancock stressed that enough had been done, referring to the establishment of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and reform to policing practices. 

Cynics might argue that the current focus on media plurality serves as a convenient distraction from failing to go further on Leveson. What is clear though, is that this new episode in the series confirms the status of the British media as a world leading asset, though Murdoch's expansion hopes may remain simply pie in the sky. 


Snapchat: where's it going and should you follow?


Snapchat: where's it going and should you follow?

Snapchat, the image messaging / social media platform with over 180 million daily users, is arguably the defining generation dividing app. There are millions using it as their default for communicating and sharing, but most parents barely understand it beyond the warnings of drug dealers and inappropriate exchanges. Snapchat remains a wilderness for many "grown-ups." 60% of its users are under 25, compared to 40% for Instagram and 29% for Facebook. But if Kylie Jenner is tweeting that she’s ditched the app, should your brand or campaign even bother trying to get their heads round it?



Snapchat was an instant hit. Within a year of its September 2011 release date, over 2 million images were being sent per day. First known as the sexting app with the sole function of sending auto-deleting images, a few years on and the app has (mostly) shed that reputation, whilst receiving a design facelift. Now there are ‘stories’ that stay up for 24 hours; a map where you can track your friends (which has unsurprisingly created a few privacy issues and caught out a few cheaters); and a ‘discover’ tab occupied by celebrity gossip, sports news, media companies and adverts. This is where you’d turn to for updates on the Kardashians, footballers and anyone that falls under the category of rich and famous.



Last month, Snapchat unleashed a redesign (we'll spare you the details incase the ins and outs already confuse you) which has been criticised for confusing and obscuring some of its user’s favourite features. The backlash has included a million-strong petition (enough to earn 10 debates in Parliament), celebrity stamps of disapproval and dropping share prices. The “all publicity…” line rings true here as the controversy has helped drive a 55% increase in downloads. Whilst some are predicting Snapchat’s decline, increased downloads and a loyal, young and traditionally hard to reach audience mean there are still opportunities for campaigns and brands to take advantage of.



Smart, funny and weird content on Snapchat can still go viral, as proven by the bizarre popularity of the ‘Dancing Hot Dog’ filter last summer. Cadbury’s released a filter that turned your eyes into Creme Eggs, which, whilst expensive to produce and promote will be front and centre and people will share it.

Shrewd and savvy companies are now trying to make short clips that are funny and natural, matching the lo-fi look of user-made content. The way Snapchat adverts blend into other news and user content means that while the 10 second videos used for Instagram may work, they’re often too slick and stand out as advertising.

For the 2017 general election, Snapchat teamed up with the Electoral Commission to add a filter that encouraged people to register to vote. The Vote Leave Campaign and Donald Trump’s team both claimed the platform was important in their electoral victories. How vital they were is up for debate, but clearly Snapchat is the best place to go if you want to target under 25s and get your message or product in front of them.


What do journalists want?


What do journalists want?

*4pm on a Friday afternoon – press office phone rings*

Journalist: “Hello, is this the press office? I’m writing a story about XX and would love to hear from YY about this – do you think I could get a comment from them or speak to someone about it?”

Me: “Possibly! I can see if there’s someone around. What’s your deadline?”

Journalist: “5pm this afternoon”

Me: “…”


The news never stops, which means there’s always a journalist, out there somewhere, frantically typing away trying to get their copy submitted in time. Journalists have urgent deadlines they must meet, and while this has always been the case, it’s no secret that social media and its need for instant reaction has put a further strain on their timescales. The same information is still needed to write a good story, but there’s less time to gather it.



If a journalist is in the middle of writing a story and gets in touch looking for a comment to include in their article, you need to be clear what they want from you, while also getting your point across.

No one likes to be left hanging, so we need to be quick to respond. The more responsive you are, the more likely journalists are to get in touch. Our journalists friends have told us first hand they like reliability, and they want trusted sources who will say something engaging and get a reaction from their audience – because that’s what helps make a good story. So, take the time to consider:

  • What worked well in the past, and what didn’t. Keep track of comments or statements made, feedback received and what was actually used in the final copy.

  • What you want to get out of an interview, as well as what they will want to get out of it. What are the three key things you want them to understand? What are the most likely questions - both naughty and nice - that they will ask?

  • What's your overall positioning in this story? Who else are they speaking to? Everyone thinks they are the hero of their own story but, in the battle between good and evil, sometimes you might be painted as the pantomime villain!

The above is true too, if you’re trying to jump on a story by wading in with a reactive comment - something we like to call "news-jacking". If this is the case you'll need to be doubly clear on your role and why the journalist should be listening to what you have to say.



First and foremost, journos need a good hook – and preferably one that no one else has. I’ve lost count of the number of times a journalist has said “great, can you hold that story and give it to me as an exclusive?”

How solid is the information to support what you’re saying? Is it a survey with just 500 respondents, or one with 3,000 – because you’ll need credible evidence to be taken seriously. Journalists have to convince their editor that a story deserves space in the paper over the work of their colleagues; it’s a tough industry to work in and can be highly competitive - not just between the different news outlets, but within the individual news and editorial teams as well.

When you’re limited to just 30 pages or so in print, or a 30 minute news broadcast, you need to be able to fight your corner. This is why the pitch is so important. Before picking up the phone or writing that pitch email, you need to be sure why your story is the winner, why your story is worth their time. That means doing your research on their audience and their editorial agenda so make sure its a good fit. 

You only need to take to twitter to see what happens when you don't... #PRfail



Print news is limited to physical space, and broadcast journalists are also competing for time. Interviews on radio and TV can last from anything from two minutes to 10 minutes, but a lot can happen in that time. 

Spokespeople are key to making a good story. Journalists want someone that’s punchy, controversial, personal or emotive. If possible, take the opportunity to call for change or illustrate your argument with empathy. This might not always be possible, but there are a couple of things you can do to help make the most of the exposure:

  • Giving a real-life example, or personal reference that might resonate with the audience.

  • Reiterate to the listeners, or audience directly why this issue might affect them.

  • Make a connection to something else that’s happening in the news that day, reaffirming that the debate is relevant and newsworthy.

Interesting copy, or punchy remarks, will undoubtedly be gratefully received and will be more likely to ask you to comment again on other stories.

Remember that journalists aren’t the enemy. They’re not all out to get you and destroy your reputation in a heartbeat. They see themselves as tellers of truth in the public interest. Their number one priority is their audience. They want content that will appeal to their readers, viewers or listeners and keep them engaged. You need to be confident that you are the person that can help them do that. And (*plug alert*) if you're struggling - with five front pages and counting in the last year - we reckon we might be able to help.


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


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.


Blog John Humphrys (002).jpg


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 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.



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.



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.


41 Down, 8,959 Still To Go


41 Down, 8,959 Still To Go

On the 6 April 2017, gender pay data became mandatory for all companies with 250+ employees, it is no longer something that can be ignored. So far, 41 companies have uploaded their data to the Government website. As we explore in our blog on the BBC’s recent gender pay tables – this is more than just compliance – this is about securing your reputation.


New research shows top media trends to watch...

New research shows top media trends to watch...

In the last month, BARB and Ofcom have both brought out their latest research into media consumption. We look at the key trends and lessons for PR professionals, questioning whether the days of the humble press release are numbered. 

We also provide a list of other useful sources if you want to take a deeper look...