Cultural change is needed to close the pay gap

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It’s reasonable to suggest that there’s a fairly ubiquitous understanding of the need for greater gender equality in the workplace, but while many employers have openly expressed their commitment to closing the gender pay gap, tangible progress has been slow at best.

However, recent research from the Resolution Foundation suggests that the gender pay gap has narrowed to 5% for women in their twenties.

According to the research, which compared income inequality across the previous five generations, the pay gap for women in their twenties was 16% among baby boomers – born between 1946 and 1965 – 9% among people born between 1966 and 1980, and currently sits at 5% amongst millennials. This progress is likely a result of a widespread cultural shift and is no doubt, in part, reflective of the greater representation of women in higher paid roles compared to prior generations.

While it’s certainly positive that the gender pay gap for young professionals continues to diminish, albeit slower than anticipated, what is concerning is that the overall progress towards income inequality remains sluggish. The headway being made in the early stages of professionals’ careers fails to represent a wider shift towards greater income equality. In fact, according to the research a sharp rise in the pay gap after the age of 30, as seen in previous generations, puts millennial women on course to face a deficit of almost 30% by the time they are in their mid-40s.

The research notes that significant rifts in the gender pay gap emerge at a time when women are likely to begin taking career breaks to start a family. However the suggestion that such breaks should hinder a women’s professional abilities is, simply put, untrue. Having a career break isn’t detrimental to an individual’s skills and abilities – in fact in many cases it can help them develop new, much desired attributes.

The pay gap, particularly the rift that emerges as young professionals reach their thirties, stems, at least in part, from two things – a lack of women in senior positions, and a historic lack of pay transparency. While it’s clear that businesses understand the value of having a gender diverse board, the number of organisations that currently meet the 33% voluntary target for the proportion of board seats held by women, are a minority. Promisingly, however, new legislation, which is set to be implemented in April, means that for the first time organisations with 250 or more employees will have to publish information on gender pay and bonus gaps, disclosing the differences between men and women’s pay.

Both of these measures, a voluntary target and greater pay transparency will no doubt help to close the gender pay gap at a crucial point in women’s careers, but without fostering real cultural change overall progress will be slow. Relying on targets or quotas to improve female representation without also fostering real cultural change, will fail to address the underlying issues, meaning that any progress made in terms of diversity will undoubtedly be short lived.

Businesses need to create an inclusive culture to which equality and diversity are fundamental if they truly want to address the gender pay gap. Without instigating cultural shifts and working to educate its workforce, any commitment to reducing income inequality will undoubtedly be perceived as hollow, not only to current employees, but also potential candidates. Millennials are known for being unafraid to job hop, and with pay equality arguably a more crucial issue for young professionals than ever before, companies risk losing some of their best talent if they fail to address the rift.

Clear Kate HeadleyAbout the author

The Clear Company is the brain child of Kate and Gareth Headley. As recruitment professionals, they realised the difficulties that organisations face in recruiting diverse talent and set about creating the tools and resources that businesses need to maximise their access to talent.

A nationally-recognised expert and auditor in diversity in recruitment, Kate works extensively with government & business in developing inclusive best practice.

She is a fully qualified HR professional who, following an early career in the private sector (Marks & Spencer) and the public sector (Manchester City Council) has spent over 15 years specialising in recruitment and diversity. Her passion and expertise in this area means that she is a sought-after speaker and advisor, helping to spread the word of the benefits of being diversity-confident to UK plc.

Kate is a key member of The Department of Work and Pensions Disability Employer Engagement Steering Group and is currently helping to create a platform for individual MPs to activate and support diversity best practice in their constituencies.


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