Women are unlikely to gain pay parity with men at senior levels for 98 years, according to a report out earlier this week. It’s not the first time such pessimistic predictions have been made and alarm bells rung. The Chartered Management Institute, which published the report, called on employers and Government to do more to promote diversity at all levels.
The report showed that there is pay parity at junior executive level. The problem is at more senior levels, indicating that the problem develops around the time many women start to have families. Max Benson, co-founder of everywoman, the UK’s largest independent network for women in business, agrees and says that in an increasingly competitive marketplace companies will need to improve their infrastructure to ensure they don’t lose vital female talent. “The problem is that when the going gets tough many companies let their good intentions go out of the window. It’s really important that those good intentions and support are hard-wired into the organisation.”
But what can women do as individuals to promote greater diversity and more equal pay? Benson says a key problem is improving confidence.”Women need to know that they are no less skilled than they were before they went on maternity leave.”
She adds: “Women tend to look at a job description and the list of attributes needed for the job and identify one thing on that list they can’t do. They will let the prospective employer know this upfront whereas men don’t tend to do this. If you add to that someone who has been out of the workforce for a while and has taken on other responsibilities such as children it is not very long before women undermine themselves and give themselves a hard time,” she says.
She counsels that it is vital for women to build networks of support. “It is important to network with other professional women who are in a similar situation and who have gone through very similar experiences and to keep this network going throughout your career,” she says. “Don’t isolate yourself and put yourself in a position where your confidence might be undermined and chipped away.” Everywoman runs clubs and networks to help women get in touch as well as a range of other resources.
She adds that it is really important to look for a mentor who can help women to find a sponsor within their organisation who can help them with the next step in their career. The mentor does not have to be in their organisation. “It’s important to have your mentor as a resource on tap throughout your career,” she says and advises choosing someone who has experience of juggling work and family life. “You want to be able to have honest, open conversations and their experience needs to resonate with yours. They need to be able to know what you are talking about,” she states.
Your mentors, however, will change as you develop. “Mentoring relationships have a life span,” says Benson. “What is appropriate in your first four or five years in your profession is different from what you need when you are returning after maternity leave.”
In terms of negotiating salaries, Benson says women need to understand that they will not automatically be recognised financially for good performance. “Many women have seen men move over the top of them in terms of salary and have walked out the door rather than address the situation,” she says. “They take it personally and see it as a personal affront, but they need to take some responsibility and negotiate accordingly. These are skills that can be learnt. It’s about having confidence and knowing your value. Learning the skills goes hand in hand with building a network so you are getting the support you need.”
She adds that it is important that women realise at an early stage that they need to build support networks for later in their career as the £10,500 pay gap between senior women and men identified in the report does not just suddenly happen. It is incremental as women tend to settle for lower pay rises all the way up the career ladder. “Many organisations find it difficult to engage younger women as they don’t understand the need to address inequality in the workplace in the early part of their careers. The figures speak for themselves though,” says Benson.
She believes more senior women are vital as role models to publicise to younger women what is possible.