We need action, not figures

Today marks the deadline for all UK companies with 250 or more employees to report their gender pay gap. Boards will now get back to the day-to-day of running their business. But in truth, the heavy lifting starts now.

Of these thousands of companies, many have been forthcoming about the reasons behind their gender pay gap. A common challenge is that not enough women are making it to the top. But this doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.

The question we really need to be asking is: what’s next? What action, and I mean real action, is being taken to shift the dial?

If we don’t ask this question, there’s a real risk the gender pay gap will become an uncomfortable but accepted societal norm, and annual gender pay gap reporting will simply serve to cement this.

Of course, it’s a complex problem and the solution will be different for every organisation. What remains the same for every company, though, is that if boards dedicate time and resource towards achieving a better gender balance in senior roles and if we take the time to share ideas and best practice, then we’ll see progress.

We’ve carried out research which found that 61% of people think its unsatisfactory that companies can publish gender pay gap data without making clear their plans for improvement.

There’s lots that can be done to drive change. And none of it is rocket science.

Dispelling myths

A year ago, most people hadn’t even heard of the gender pay gap. And now it’s making front page news on an almost daily basis. It’s great to see the issue firmly on the table, but there’s work to be done in helping people understand what it really means.

TSB’s research found that 82% of people don’t understand what the gender pay gap is, with 73% mistakenly thinking it’s the same as equal pay, which measures the difference in pay between men and women doing the same job.

It’s essential that companies take steps to ensure their workforce understands the difference between the gender pay gap and equal pay, as well as what they are required to report on each year. Without that, we won’t get to the root cause of the issues.

Championing talent

It’s great that so many policy makers, businesses and experts now recognise the importance of building the right environment to enable gender balance.

Using data and other evidence to understand which initiatives actually deliver results will help us to move towards achieving gender balance across the UK.

Research from Bain & Company found that, to make meaningful progress on gender parity, leaders need to take responsibility for encouraging and developing female talent, whilst ensuring the right training and policies are in place to help make gender parity a reality.

Particularly in male-dominated industries, mentoring and coaching schemes can help to ensure businesses are better set up to encourage female employees to fulfil their potential – we all need a little help along the way.

Gender-balanced shortlists

Gender-balanced shortlists are another simple but effective way of making sure recruitment processes promote gender parity. I know this from personal experience.

It’s something TSB has been using in all external recruitment at senior levels for two years now and it’s made a significant impact in helping increase the number of women in senior management roles from 37% to 41% since 2013.

Encouraging women to return to the workforce

Research carried out by PwC and the 30% Club shows that supporting women returning to the workplace following a career break will help businesses improve diversity at senior levels.

It’s encouraging to see more and more companies running initiatives to recruit women who have been out of the workforce for an extended period.

Having run our own returnship programme in Scotland, we’re starting to see the difference these schemes can make.

We also know many people would like to work more flexibly and we’ve invested in the latest digital desktop solutions to allow our Partners (what we call employees) to do just that.

Businesses must take action

Gender pay gap reporting needs to be the catalyst that forces an ongoing, active conversation that results in action.

As an industry, we must commit to talking openly about the reasons sitting behind pay gaps, understand the complexity and embrace difficult conversations. Most importantly, we must commit to acting to address the imbalance. It isn’t easy, and it will take time – but it’s the only way we’re going to bring about sustainable change.

Today’s milestone must mark the start of leaders and boards asking themselves ‘How are we going to bring about real change?’. If this doesn’t happen, gender pay gap reporting will simply become an arbitrary exercise that only serves to reinforce the status quo. And what’s the point in that?

Helen Rose, TSB



*Helen Rose is Chief Operating Officer and Executive Sponsor for Gender at TSB.

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