Positive discrimination is the only way address the gender pay gap - Nicola Barclay

Less than two months ago, on International Women’s Day, my Twitter feed was full of companies publicly posting support, encouragement and thanks to their female staff. I also follow the Gender Pay Gap Bot (which automatically retweets all IWD tweets along with the actual gender pay gap for that company) and the hypocrisy was clear for all to see. When you consider that the first IWD was in 1911, it’s exhausting that we are still seeing the stark disparity that remains. Over 100 years of shining a light, but clearly, there is still more to do.

Affecting women at all levels, research shows that even women with MBAs lag behind their male counterparts, in terms of both pay and career progression. Although the pay gap has been declining gradually since 2007, women among the MBA alumni still earn eight percent less than their male counterparts, so even these highly motivated, connected and educated women are disadvantaged.

According to ONS, across the wider population, the pay gap remains a gigantic chasm at 14.9 per cent. Many are opposed to positive discrimination to help address this but without such additional measures, this unfairness and inequality will remain.

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Recently a local councillor expressed his “deep concern” that women will get preferential treatment in regards to training opportunities for one of the new Green Freeports. He is quoted as saying it was “not equality” and “men who have worked hard and earned their qualifications should not be discriminated against”. However, that same council ‘s own report stated that without direct action there would be disproportionately more jobs (77 per cent) for male employees.

Nicola Barclay is Managing Director at Athena Leadership & CoachingNicola Barclay is Managing Director at Athena Leadership & Coaching
Nicola Barclay is Managing Director at Athena Leadership & Coaching

New analysis from the Fawcett Society shows that 95 per cent of local authorities across the UK remain male-dominated. Fewer than five per cent of local councils have achieved at least parity in gender representation, so it is perhaps not surprising that councillors in such positions of privilege hold these views, but these examples show how endemic the situation is.

A significant proportion of those I coach are women working in male dominated sectors. Many cite Imposter Syndrome as an issue that they believe impacts them and their ability to progress. When we consider that office environments were originally created around the time of the first International Women’s Day, they were designed to function in a way that suited the majority (white, privileged men). Bearing in mind that any women working there had to leave when they got married, it is absurd that they haven’t really changed that much in the intervening years. Office work is still predominantly 9 to 5, with flexible working policies a recent (and often reluctant) concept. Those choosing to take their full entitlement of maternity or paternity leave; those needing to work part time, or requesting anything other than ‘normal’ hours, are often looked over for promotion, the next big project, or pay rises. With an embedded patriarchal culture still pervasive in many sectors, it is no wonder that many people feel like impostors.

The overnight flip to home working in lockdown was a seismic shift. The evolution of hybrid

working continues to disrupt the norm as companies grapple with future work patterns. Creating new environments that are flexible and adaptable for all staff, can provide employers with an opportunity to tap into a deeper talent pool, and get ahead of the competition. But progressive and creative leaders have to be brave in order to create a culture far removed from the confines of the past. By offering staff equal pay, along with the flexibility to shape their working lives to support their other commitments, and by supporting them through coaching and mentoring programmes, they are more likely to attract and retain teams who know they are valued.

The gender pay gap remains a gigantic chasm at 14.9 per centThe gender pay gap remains a gigantic chasm at 14.9 per cent
The gender pay gap remains a gigantic chasm at 14.9 per cent

Here’s hoping we don’t need another 100 years to mainstream this change. If you’re not sure where to start, remember Gender Pay Gap Bot is watching, and I really hope your company won’t be publicly shamed next International Women’s Day!

Nicola Barclay is Managing Director at Athena Leadership & Coaching www.athena-coaching.co.uk/

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