Five steps to making gender pay gap reporting a catalyst for change

Over the next couple of years we're going to see whether transparency is the right tool for progress on the gender pay gap.

I've been working with a handful of companies in recent months to help review the reports they are now obliged by law to prepare, along with accompanying statements and communications plans. Despite representing many different sectors, they share a set of common challenges.

There’s no denying the biggest issue is the simply the fact there are more men in better-paid, senior positions. This has manifested over decades of inaction on diversity, but as the father of two girls soon to enter the world of work, I hope I’m in the last generation of managers to say that.

Then there’s the impact senior female leaders going on maternity leave has on how the data has been gathered, and the fact not enough mothers returning to work are progressing through management layers. With more men doing higher-paid technical roles and more women in administrative roles, the bonus gap in many organisations requires a significant rethink.

Gender pay gap reporting has brought reality into sharp focus. Plenty of organisations are already on the road to positive change to improve diversity on all fronts, not just gender. But there are also some leadership teams shrugging shoulders and saying this is just the way labour markets work.

At best, they point to a handful of recent gender diversity initiatives that hint at progress or the dynamic senior women who have succeeded against the odds in their organisation. At worst, they classify gender pay gap reporting as paperwork and PR.

Regardless of the leadership view, there are some important principles that will help successful communicators on this issue over the coming year:

  1. Your initial focus should be on your most valuable ambassadors - employees. They can make a difference through their attitudes and behaviour on how much progress can be made in closing the gender pay gap, regardless of whether they are male or female.
  2. Effective communication on a topic like this requires active listening through channels that support informed conversation and allow you to ask for help or ideas from people.
  3. Balance your narrative with success stories and a realistic assessment of challenges, then find ways of explaining how closing the gender pay gap, and improving diversity, will help deliver strategy.
  4. Realise that people expect leaders to go beyond the boundaries of their business when tackling societal issues, both in terms of contributing to the debate and taking action.
  5. Build and maintain momentum around a clear action plan to close your gender pay gap that provides a communications agenda and keeps positive news on the boil.

Closing the UK’s gender pay gap offers benefits for everyone. If companies make it a strong pillar of their wider approach to improving diversity and keep on the front foot, they can turn the reputation risk into an opportunity for positive progress.

Neil Bayley is director of business and corporate at Good Relations

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