An article on the BBC News website suggests that MPs are seeking to address the ‘motherhood penalty’ by introducing new policies. A recent report from the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee discusses the gender pay gap. In the BBC article the chair of the committee, Maria Miller, is quoted as saying “… the gender pay gap is holding back women …”.
Unfortunately Ms Miller has her variables confused. It’s not the pay gap that is holding women back. The pay gap occurs as a result of women being held back’.
So, why are women being held back? What’s the real issue here?
Employment law requires employers to treat both sexes equally in terms of pay. Where the work is broadly similar, or the roles are rated equivalent or of equal value then both sexes must be treated equally in both pay and terms and conditions of employment. That’s the law and there’s enough evidence that most, if not all, firms are compliant. Equal pay is not the issue.
The Gender Pay Gap
The gender pay gap is different. Women are, by virtue of nature, child-bearers. This means that women do take time off when their child is born. Some choose to go back to work immediately, or after the short period of maternity leave. It is likely that this group will remain on the same pay track as their male counterparts. It’s likely that there’s little or no gender gap in this case.
The gender pay gap appears when women take time out to stay at home with their children. As a result of many years managing the home and their children they lose touch with the changes that have occurred in their chosen career. When they return to work, it is at a level the same as, or even lower than, that which they left. Therefore, quite naturally, their pay will be lower than other colleagues, male and female, who remained in employment and likely had promotions.
This state is best understood with this graph, built from research.
Of course, knowing that a phenomenon exists does not help get more women to the top. This graph suggests that the only solution is for all women to return to work immediately. When women take time out, capable women do not progress up the seniority scale.
So acknowledging this phenomenon, how do senior managers tap the huge talent that’s lost.
Culture Must Change
One big issue is culture. Jayne-Anne Gadhia, CEO of Virgin Money, acknowledged this. She said the reason women don’t ‘get to the top’ is not just about childcare. She added that women are leaving work because the culture is not right. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, also discusses this in her book Lean In.
The phenomenon of the gender gap causes industries to be male dominated at the top – that’s obvious from the graph.
Males are competitive and look at females as weak. Males mentor males to succeed. And by definition, females have few other females as role models. They have few females to act as mentors to help them rise. Men hold many of the senior roles. As a result, male dominated industries don’t make it easy for women to reach the top. It’s a self-reinforcing system.
Social norms mean that male and female colleagues going to a bar for an after-work drink to build a rapport and discuss work is viewed by colleagues as sexual. Two male colleagues, however, are seen simply as two colleagues out for a drink. One CEO recognised this recently and gave an edict that no mentoring was to take place after work. Breakfast and lunch meetings only were allowed – he was trying to level the playing field. He was trying to change the work culture and avoid females being disadvantaged by their having to decline evening meetings.
Women Must Change Too
It’s a fact that there are a disproportionate number of women in senior positions in firms. It’s every manager’s responsibility (whether male or female) to help women feel empowered so that they can move to the next step in their career. As they move through their career they will then act as role models for younger women, and the reinforcement of the gender gap will diminish.
Another cultural shift needs to take place in women themselves. Women should strive for the career they want, until they are ready to start a family. This means that the level at which they can return to their chosen career will be higher. It will be higher than if they elected not to go for promotion because they believed that they would become pregnant soon. We need a shift here to encourage women to aspire.
We also need a shift in the way both women and men are appointed to roles. There are still firms who don’t appoint on truly objective criteria. Many senior (male) managers want to appoint an Alpha-wolf in their own image. This is despite all research suggesting that females make better managers. It’s a male thing!
Robust recruitment methods will end this. Senior managers need to state the competencies and behaviours needed for each senior role. Selection based on appropriate work sample tests, structured interview and psychometric tests will identify the candidate that exhibits these competencies and behaviours – irrespective of gender. If this is done, finally we’ll have equality in selection!
Mind the Gap
So, coming back to Maria Miller’s comment that the gender pay gap holds women back.
The pay gap is a symptom of the inequality, not the cause.
Many things need to change. Men need to understand the impact they have on the careers of their female colleagues and as senior managers, the role they have in perpetuating the phenomenon. Women need to understand that it’s OK to continue their career as far as they can until they are ready to start a family. And they need to return to work as soon as they can. Parental support needs to be in place for both parents and maternity and paternity leave should be seen as equally valid by couples and employers.
There’s a huge culture shift needed and if everyone plays a part, change will happen. Lots of little change will lead to big change. But it is a problem with many variables. There’s no one solution, but if the loss of skills and knowledge at the top is to be addressed, it needs urgent action.
Call us now if you would like TimelessTime to help you build a mentoring programme to help your senior team effect a real change in the ‘gender gap’.