Can the PR industry afford another generation of 'lost women'?

The PR and comms sector is waking up to the 'national blind spot' that employers seem to have when it comes to the gender pay gap - but does it need to do more?

Can the industry afford another generation of 'lost women', asks Amanda Fone?
Can the industry afford another generation of 'lost women', asks Amanda Fone?

Here in the UK – where we lead Europe in flexible employment practices – the gender pay gap remains at 19.2 per cent for the under-40s, and rises to 27.3 per cent for those aged between 50 and 59.

But why? Are women any less talented, ambitious or capable? 

No. The gender gap is about more than ability, and sits with the ‘unconscious’ prejudices of employers in not recognising the issue or effecting suitable working conditions.

For many women, the ‘elephant in the room’ has been that of the career/family break.

After a gap of up to five years, you may be lucky enough to resume a career at the same grade and pay (not forgetting that your male counterpart has moved on and is higher up the tree) or you may not

Often, a lower-grade entry job is accepted – a process of stepping back in order to move forwards.

Fundamentally, UK employers are not alert to the fact that there are not enough skilled individuals to meet demand for full-time roles – and nor are they looking imaginatively at their hiring policies. This means creating working conditions that encourage a fluid workforce alongside today’s societal needs.

Last month, a quick analysis of jobs on the Guardian online showed approximately 12,500 jobs advertised. Of those, only 147 were for part-time positions paying more than £30,000 per yeat pro-rata, which represented less than 2 per cent

In our experience, most women who left the PR job market five years ago left it on salaries higher than £50,000.

The maths shows that employers are not offering flexible working positions or embracing part-time or agile working as the right way to do business.

Currently, the government does not have a coherent strategy to address the issues but there are potential solutions under review – eg, taking away the unconscious discrimination that advertising a role as 'part-time' or 'full-time' encourages.

This means all jobs would be flexible by default, and to advertise a full-time role would be seen as discriminatory.

The PR and comms sector is becoming better at offering flexible working (normally four days, so not that flexible) as women return from maternity leave, enabling the sector to hold on to some of its talent.

But it is not taking the lead in offering returners (after a break of up to five years) the opportunity to get back to work, bringing their 10-15 years of experience and skills to really contribute in the workplace. This is where the real blind spot is.

There is a talent shortage in the sector, yet we won’t consider suitable candidates with skills and experience because they cannot work five days a week.

Let’s not accept another generation of lost women – let the PR sector lead the agenda and harness the power of a balanced and fair workforce and let the gender pay gap be a thing of the past.

Amanda Fone is chief executive of f1 recruitment and contributed to Parliament’s Gender Pay Gap report in March

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