Gender Pay Gap: It’s more than just a numbers game

By Stephanie Croucher

Tuesday 29th January

The countdown to the gender pay gap reporting deadline is on. Stephanie Croucher outlines how companies can use it as an opportunity to create a narrative about how they’re making progress to becoming a more equal workplace.

With less than three months left for companies with more than 250 employees to publish their second round of gender pay gap data, the winners and losers are already doing the near impossible and stealing headlines away from Brexit. HSBC and Virgin Atlantic are amongst those on the list that have been publicly named and shamed for their growing gaps.

At the time of publication 835 companies have published pay data for the second time, having been mandated to for the first time ever in 2018. That means that there are over 9,000 companies that are yet to hit the submission button. They are faced with the intimidating task of telling the complex and at times challenging story of workplace equality, people development and recruitment that sits behind the data.

The media are poised to scrutinise the figures and shine the light on companies where gender discrimination is rife, business models are outdated and female talent is being ignored. Employees, existing and potential, are watching how it all plays out, monitoring the media clippings and Twitter conversations to understand if women are being paid fairly.

It is public, and it’s meant to be. Yet so often it has been the HR and talent teams alone managing the Gender Pay Gap submissions and change programmes. For many this has been the first time that they have had to lift the lid on corporate practices for all to see. One unlikely saviour has been sitting on their submission checklist all along: the narrative. The narrative is an optional add-on alongside the six sets of raw data.

Last year, 25% of companies opted out of including the narrative, rather relying on data to speak for itself. But this year, with the expectation of change in the air, data alone won’t cut it. One year into the Government’s five-year plan, we’re all anticipating an improvement in recruitment and progression of women and reduce the gender pay gap.

The narrative can help to fill the gap between expectation and reality. It provides a space for companies to share the context, telling the story of what has happened in the past year, the changes that are underway and the goals they aim to achieve. It has given businesses a voice and allowed them to join the conversation.

And it is a complex conversation where the numbers do not necessarily speak for themselves. They can be easily skewed and don’t always fairly reflect the change that is underway. For example, hiring more junior female staff can increase the gap in the short term. Launching a development programme or flexibility working scheme to help promote women won’t see the immediate results, rather in the second or third year. And for smaller businesses, one senior leaver could make a real difference to the numbers.

When writing the narrative, there are three principles to keep in mind:

  1. Show that it’s a business priority

Pay is intrinsically linked to emotion, especially when employees feel like they are being mistreated. To show that the seriousness of the pay gap is being acted upon, both culturally and through practices, make sure that the message comes from the top of the business, the CEO.

  1. Be honest, not defensive

Helping people to understand the stories behind the data is a good idea but labouring the point will sound defensive. Instead be honest about the drivers behind your figures and then focus on how you plan to put it right.

  1. Speak plainly, don’t hide behind dreaded jargon

Jargon is a trap. It makes the audience suspect that you’re hiding something, with long words and technical language. And usually they are right. Leave the smoke and mirrors behind and tell your story in plain, clear and simple language.

It’s critical that over the next three months companies are on the front foot in telling their gender pay gap stories in their own words, rather than simply hitting the submission button and letting the data free to public interpretation.

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