There is much more to gender balance than just pay

There is a need to implement measurable, practical strategies to shift the scales

By Catherine Smith McKiernan Adare Human Resource Management

WHILE IN THE past month, a number of organisations announced details of their gender pay gap, the figures alone don’t give any real insight into what organisations are doing to align the gender balance of their workforce.

In fact, in companies that only employ a small percentage of females, the gender pay gap figure really is irrelevant to the gender balance conversation.

Research carried out as part of the Adare Human Resource Management HR Barometer 2019 found that just 14% of organisations are recording their gender pay gap data.

This is even though 45% of organisations surveyed believe their pay gap is either in line with or below the national average.

Many of the organisations we spoke with, 7 in 10, have done nothing to address gender balance in the past 12 months and don’t have plans to implement any initiatives either in the coming year.

This is startling given that legislation is a matter of months away, a promise made by the current Government to enact gender pay reporting legislation before the end of its current term.

In the UK gender pay reporting has been in place since April 2017 and there has been little sign that it is affecting any great change. A recent report highlighted that the pay for women over 50 is 28% lower than men in the same age group; that’s an average of £12,500 less pay.

It is not just about the pay gap 

We know that addressing the gender pay gap is a global challenge. In November 2017, the World Economic Forum readjusted predictions that it would take 170 years for the pay gap to close, adding 47 years to the previous estimate.

This means women may have to wait 217 years before full workplace equality is achieved.

Figures compiled by the charity Dress for Success Dublin found that Irish women effectively work at least one unpaid month each year due to the gender pay gap.

A gap of 14 per cent means women effectively stop earning in mid-November compared to men.

But the focus shouldn’t simply be on the pay gap percentage; this is just a number after all.

In order to create a fairer working environment and achieve better balance, organisations must walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

The gender pay gap is just a measurement sparking the debate – it doesn’t invoke change.

Organisations must take a practical approach making changes within the work environment to create more equal opportunities and drive success and growth.

Meaningful change

In order to achieve any meaningful gender balance across an organisation, a holistic approach must be taken. Awareness is just step one; practical policies and practices should be put in place to back up an organisation’s intention to enact real change.

There is a need to implement measurable, practical strategies to shift the scales in favour of a fairer and more transparent gender balance landscape, including setting meaningful targets for change and involving both genders to deliver a better balance.

In addition to the ethical argument for gender balance, there are far-reaching economic benefits to an equal opportunity workplace.

We know getting the balance right across organisations drives a more successful business environment for everybody. This includes growth in revenue and profits and ultimately company success.

It creates better workplaces and better decision making led by an engaged workforce with opportunities for everyone.

Of course, for change to happen, the workplace must become a more welcoming environment for both men and women.

Balance is not exclusively a women’s issue, it involves everyone in the organisation from the top down, and success in shifting the dial comes when balance is embraced by all.

There are so many practical initiatives that can be introduced, but these cannot just be targeted at women: there must be a universal approach.

It’s about changing the dynamic towards a more equal and inclusive working environment without instilling fear that the pendulum will swing too far in the opposite direction.

Catherine Smith McKiernan is the head of HR consulting at Adare Human Resource Management.

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