The PR industry needs to fix the causes of the gender pay gap earlier in women's careers

We're (for the most part) very conscious now of the "motherhood penalty" women pay in our industry due to maternity leave and that this is a key cause of the gender pay gap.

The gender pay gap is heartbreaking but it can be fixed if the industry takes action early in women's careers, writes Bibi Hilton
The gender pay gap is heartbreaking but it can be fixed if the industry takes action early in women's careers, writes Bibi Hilton
It’s heartbreaking. 

You swipe your pass on the first day, sit down, log on and "bam" you’re probably already earning less than the equally new guy next to you. 

By the time a woman is three years in - arguably the most exciting time of your life and career – she’s already ten grand down. That’s huge. That’s a deposit on a flat. Many, many holidays. Paying down a student loan. 

It’s not her fault and it’s not the fault of the guy next to her. It’s not even the boss’s fault. 

It’s the culmination of lots of small, often unnoticed actions, unconscious bias and outdated (and I’m sorry to say, male-biased) recruitment processes. 

There has been much campaigning in our industry focused on addressing the gender gap for mid-career women by organisations like my own, Women in PR; by brilliant and indefatigable women like Amanda Fone and Liz Nottingham with their pioneering Back2Businessship returnship programme; by Ali Hanan at Creative Equals and many progressive employers. 

You swipe your pass on the first day, sit down, log on and "bam" you’re probably already earning less than the equally new guy next to you.

Bibi Hilton, president of Women in PR and managing director or Golin London

With the gap for mid-career women cited in this research as £75k, there is still a mountain to climb.

However, evidence shows employers in communications are starting to take heed and change their working practices by introducing flexible working, returnships, mentoring or changes in their recruitment and rewards processes to be gender-neutral.

But last week’s research made me realise we need to be directing our efforts much, much earlier in a woman’s career. But how?

Firstly, we need to ensure younger women have the confidence and skills to effectively negotiate salaries, promotions and pay rises.

Of course, it’s not true that all women are reluctant to or lack the skills negotiate. Plenty do this regularly and very effectively.

I clearly remember negotiating my very first salary. But the person who told me to do it was my mum.

Without her behind me, I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to and perhaps that’s true for many other women starting out, who we could better support.

In agency-land, pay rises and promotions are often linked to being on the winning pitch team.

Ali Hanan at Creative Equals underlines how important it is for women to ensure they get themselves on a pitch team and I think this is especially true for younger women.

Agency leaders need to ensure they are picking gender-balanced teams and not making selections based on who shouts loudest.

Recruitment practices also need to change.

In New York, they’ve introduced legislation whereby an employer can no longer ask what salary a candidate is on and instead must ask "What are your salary expectations?"

The aim is to stop a woman who was underpaid in a previous role carrying that pay gap with her to the next job.

The employer instead relies on robust benchmarking and market knowledge to value the candidate.

None of this is rocket science, but it can make all the difference to getting that £10k back in the pockets of younger women.

Bibi Hilton is president of Women in PR and managing director of Golin London


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