The Gender Pay Gap: we need to talk about the C-word

Verena Hefti, CEO & Founder at Leaders Plus offers a new perspective on the Gender Pay Gap.

The gender pay gap will not go away unless we solve that too many brilliant women tend to get stuck in middle management and stop progressing to senior leadership once they have children.

This leaves us with a massive gender gap in senior leadership roles. Fewer women in senior leadership roles directly results in a large gender pay gap.

88.8 per cent of FTSE350 employers say that a key reason for their pay gap is that women are under represented in senior leadership roles (Global Women in Leadership Institute, King’s College 2019).

And yet, when the action plans of the companies are analysed, it turns out that only just over half (54 per cent) of companies try to change their leadership pipeline, and a similar percentage say that in order to change the gender pay gap, they are trying to change their maternity/paternity policies.

We need to talk about the C-word, we need to talk about children.

Between age 30 and age 40, the gender pay gap increases from 5.7 per cent to 17 per cent for women in fulltime employment. Age 30 is the average UK child bearing age for a woman. You go figure.

A French study found that per additional child, the gender pay gap increases by three per cent and anecdotally many of our Leaders Plus Fellows report that they are told to ‘slow down’ when they return from maternity leave or shared parental leave.

So does this mean that it’s women’s fault for having children and we should ingest more contraceptive pills? Of course not.

Here are three things to start with:

  • Sort the basics: make sure that your policies are parent friendly, from equal pay for shared parental leave to simple things such as a milk pumping room without glass windows and a plug for the electric pump.
  • Be inquisitive: collect data and host a roundtable brown bag lunch with at least three exec board members and 6 parents in middle leadership roles to find out what the issue looks like on the ground in your organisation.
  • Offer bespoke support to ambitious new parents and reassure them that the organisation still believes in their potential. This sounds straightforward but our Leaders with Babies Fellows tell us that it makes all the difference.

I believe that the years when you have very young children are sensitive years in your career. Aside from the practical challenges, they are often the years where you redefine yourself as a leader and redefine your career aspirations. That is why I set up the Leaders Plus Fellowship to support leaders with young children (application deadline 23 April). This 12 month programme supports leaders with young children to progress their own careers and drive change within their organisations. It combines inspirational events with a senior leader mentor, career acceleration support and maternity/paternity support interventions such as a session with a sleep consultant. Fellows can bring along their babies to all sessions. The programme is open to all genders. Fellows are either expecting a baby, on parental leave or have returned from leave in the last two years.

Verena HeftiAbout the author

Verena Hefti has run highly successful leadership development programmes and events for 10 years in Switzerland, Denmark and the UK, most recently as Regional Director at Teach First where she redesigned leadership development conferences and delivered leadership training to 400 Teach First participants. In her spare time, she volunteers as Chair of Trustees at Lewisham Citizens Advice. After giving birth to baby Naira, she decided to help more new parents stay on the leadership trajectory and started to work on Leaders Plus. She graduated with an MA with distinction in Social Anthropology from the University of Manchester where she studied gender equality in depth.

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