Getting to equality: the Top Employer Awards debate


The implications of the gender pay audit for employers and the need to tackle everyday bias against women formed the background to this year’s Top Employer Awards.

In the keynote address Ann Francke, CEO of the Chartered Management Institute, spoke of the need to create “better line managers” in order to boost productivity. Doing so meant having a better gender balance at the top echelons of organisations, she said.

She showed the results of the ICM’s recent survey depicting the divergence between pay for junior level workers [where there was a 4% gender pay gap] and those at director level [where there was a 19% pay gap]. The gender pay gap rose and the number of women fell as you got higher up a company, creating a “glass pyramid”.

What is more, the pay gap at the top increased to 26.8% when you added in perks and bonuses, said Francke. Male CEOs earned on average six times more in bonuses than women, in large part due to the fact that women tended to get to CEO level in public and third sector organisations.

Francke added that men were 40% more likely to get promoted than women. She addressed the everyday “inappropriate remarks” that women in the workplace face that hold them back and “create a culture where it is acceptable to overlook them for promotion”. She said: “If we want to fix the big things with regard to pay and promotion we have to fix the little things too.”

She added that there was an economic imperative to increase diversity at all levels of an organisation. It would lead to a 150 billion pound boost to UK GDP in the next 10 years, higher employer engagement, organisations being able to serve customers better, make more rounded decisions and avoid groupthink and would result in better line management.

The gender pay audits were likely to show glass pyramids in many organisations so it was imperative that employers explain what they are doing to change that. That meant changing behaviour. “People have to feel they need to change,” said Francke. Change would come through men experiencing “otherness” [such as being the only man in the room, something many senior women experience], through every employee calling out bad behaviour and through celebrating positive role models, including men.

“Give senior managers your gender pay statistics and tell them to talk about them with their daughters,” said Francke. Other ideas included allowing senior men to swap positions with a woman in their organisation or a partner organisation, listening to women talking about the barriers they face, ensuring mixed promotion and recruitment shortlists and panels and agile working in every job and setting and tracking targets. “If you do not track your progress it won’t happen,” said Francke.

Q & A

Her speech was followed by the awards ceremony and a Q & A session, sponsored by Morgan Sindall, chaired by Top Employer Awards judge Jennifer Liston-Smith, Director/Head of Coaching and Consultancy at My Family Care. On the panel were Dawn Moore, Director of Human Resources at Morgan Sindall and winner of the Working Mums Champion Award, and Ann Francke as well as Top Employer Awards judges Professor Clare Kelliher from Cranfield School of Management and Andy Lake, editor of  The panel covered everything from everyday sexism at work to Shared Parental Leave and agile working.

Francke believed that encouraging more take-up of Shared Parental Leave was one factor in addressing the gender divide at senior levels, but said other cultural factors were more important, such as flexible working and recognising that women gained experience when they took time out to have children and should not be discounted from promotion as a result.

A spokesperson for Berwin Leighton Paisner which won the Best for Dads Award said the law firm had promoted the policy heavily and got early adopters to speak about it and the impact on their careers. What really made a change, though, she said, was when line managers also spoke about the impact it had had. 35% of new dads at BLP have taken SPL, much higher than the norm. The firm enhances SPL at the same level as maternity pay.  “For us it is making a difference and it sits beside flexible working in terms of impact. We feel it could be as powerful,” she stated. “It delivers on the otherness agenda because men have to juggle family and career. It puts men in women’s shoes and men want to do it.”

Dawn Moore spoke of how the construction firm was simplifying what was very complex legislation so people understood their rights. Jennifer Liston-Smith said there was a big appetite among younger men for sharing the carer role and that not enabling that would lead to male disengagement at work.

Other questions included how to break traditional patterns of work. Andy Lake proposed moving away from concerns on place and focusing on results. He said jobs could be broken down into their activities and that questioning what people do and why could boost efficiency. Work culture needed to be challenged. Professor Kelliher advised challenging traditional norms and thinking creatively about how work is done, asking if work needs to be done the way it has been done, whether set hours are needed and if so when people are actually needed. Research showed more collaborative teams were better able to accommodate flexibility, she added.

Andy Lake added that agile working was about more than remote working. It was about changing the whole system, from appraisals to how people collaborate. Business needs were driving this. McDonald’s, which won the Innovation in Flexible Working Award, said they had had to adapt to a more agile system due to the demand for 24/7 opening hours.

Carla Walsh from Overall Top Employer Winner Lloyds Banking Group said what had made a difference in terms of changing to an agile hiring system was showing the commercial benefits. It was not just an employee driven initiative. It made business sense, particularly in a more global workplace. Being more flexible boosted productivity, added Ann Francke.

There was also discussion about how to deal with inappropriate comments at work. Dawn Moore said unconscious bias training for senior managers raised awareness and brought action. “In some of our workshops I have seen some real lightbulb moments where managers realise the impact of unconscious bias,” she said.

Always on

One member of the audience asked if employers had a responsibility to address the “always on” culture. Professor Kelliher said flexible working, particularly homeworking, was linked to longer hours which could bring negative wellbeing outcomes. It was important for employers to monitor that, especially for those working different hours and in different locations who might be less visible. There was evidence that flexible workers worked harder because they were worried about their flexible working being taken away and that if flexible working was more normalised this effect would lessen. A spokeswoman for EY said work intensification was increasing for everyone with huge mental health implications. Employees had to be empowered to set their own boundaries, for instance, by making it more difficult to be contacted on holiday. The conversation on this was only just beginning.

The Q & A session ended on the gender pay gap. Ann Francke said the pace of change had to be dramatically accelerated. The World Economic Forum was predicting it would take 170 years to get to gender parity at current rates of progress.  There needed to be a focus on results and on creating a culture where everyone could be themselves. Transparency over pay gaps would help drive this. “Women will be able to use the information from the gender pay audits to go to your HR and say what are you doing about this. We have to use this information and discuss it openly,” she said.

*To find out who the winners were of the’s Top Employer Awards, click here. 

The Q&A session at the 2017 Top Employer awards was sponsored by:


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