Mind the gap? Yes, I do!

This week I’m feeling super retro.  Why, you might ask?  Because research released last week revealed that over the past two decades, the pay gap for educated women has remained the same.  That means no improvement since 1996 – a time when ‘The Rachel’ was considered a viable haircut and The Spice Girls were still together.  As I digest this news I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want – to be paid as much as my male colleagues! 

In case it wasn’t depressing enough that women earn on average 18% less than men, it turns out that the pay gap widens for 12 years (yes, you read that right) after women have children.  As I raise my head from my hands I wonder why I’m surprised, after all CIPR’s 2016 State of PR report found an average disparity of £15,040 between men and women in PR – ouch!  Other than writing irate blog posts filled with gratuitous 90s pop culture references, what action can we take?  There are a few different approaches currently being explored…

This summer Massachusetts introduced a legislation barring employers from asking job candidates about their salary history.  The intent is that it would stop the cycle of underpayment – instead employers would be forced to adopt consistent benchmarks based on experience and capability.  I think this is really innovative, and look forward to seeing the impact it has.

I am also obsessed with negotiation training. Have you ever hear that ‘Women view salary offers as a final offer, while men view it as a starting a point for negotiation’ – well, it’s true.  In general, women lack the confidence, experience and perhaps skills to negotiate for ourselves – it may sound simplistic but, when it comes to more money, we’re just not asking for it.  Ironically, women have proven to be highly successful negotiators when working on behalf of others – so we are able to ask for it, just not always for ourselves.  Alternately, some people suggest getting rid of all negotiation in relation to salaries as this approach currently favors men.  My view is that with training and practice women can emerge as equally effective negotiators, and I would love to see more companies introducing negotiation training.

A popular suggestion is implementing pay transparency, which would require companies to make all salary information available.  I have to be honest that this makes me totally uncomfortable – but the belief is that this will force managers to defend what they pay their employees and overall improve the quality of performance by all.  The most famous beneficiary of this approach is Charlize Theron who realized after the Sony hack that Chris Hemsworth was being paid more than she was for The Huntsman, and renegotiated her salary.  Considering that she’s an Oscar winner and he was on an Australian soap opera, it does make you wonder about their salary criteria.

Another solution is simply paying women more.  A London-based marketing agency found an 8.6% difference in the salaries of male and female employees, so they raised women’s salaries across the company by…8.6%.  They have committed to reviewing and equalising salaries on an annual base.  Amazing, right?

In addition to looking at how to close the gap, it’s also important to consider why it matters.  I haven’t found anyone who explains this better than Cindy Gallop, ‘money is the yardstick. When senior management goes into budget-planning meetings, and they look down the spreadsheet of employee salaries, and if they see all the women are making less, the assumption is they are not as good. Money is the shorthand for who is successful, who is contributing, who is worth it. Parity in pay checks will hopefully lead to parity in how men and women are viewed as being capable and valuable.’ 

Twenty years is way too long to wait for the salary gap to close, and the time has come to take action.  No matter what industry we’re in, what level we are and what type of work we do, we can all take inspiration from the catchphrase that emerged from the popular 1996 movie, Jerry Maguire – ‘Show Me the Money.’  That is, as long as it’s at least as much as he’s making…

Avra Lorrimer

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search