'Detailed data and positive action' - how comms pros can be at the forefront of fixing the gender pay gap

The Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Committee's output on gender pay gap reporting, released yesterday, is the latest Parliamentary broadside to be fired squarely at an issue the Prime Minister has condemned as a "burning injustice".

Nicholas Dunn-McAfee: Present the granular on gender pay gap reporting
Nicholas Dunn-McAfee: Present the granular on gender pay gap reporting

The concrete details are worth considering alongside the PR and communications industry’s own 21 per cent gender pay gap: gaps of over 40 per cent are not uncommon "in some sectors"; 78 per cent of organisations reported gaps in favour of men; and the Committee’s own analysis shows that 13 per cent of employers have a gap that exceeds 30 per cent.

To carry on the metaphor: some sectors burn with far more intensity than others, but all these fires must be fought.

The Committee's call for a significantly lower reporting threshold mirrors PR and communications industry research undertaken during the government consultation in 2015. The rallying call at the core, however, is where the value lies for practitioners: it’s not simply about reporting basic figures; it’s about providing detailed data and positive action.

And by that, I mean pivoting away from gender pay gap work being thought of as transactional compliance - a short-term reporting exercise - and towards a long-term narrative based on accountability and accessibility.

So what can PR and communications practitioners – in light of the Committee’s report – do to develop their clients’ or employer’s gender pay gap work?

First, look beyond the legislative minimum, whether that be the threshold or the precise figures you publish. Go above and beyond, whether that be providing gender pay gap figures for different ONS occupational groups, disclosing the gender breakdown and gender pay gaps for each pay quartile, or redrawing quartiles to take into account the total remuneration of employees. That is: present the granular.

Secondly, both politicians and the public are increasingly frustrated by inauthentic gestures and weasel words.

For an example of the former, see the number of organisations communicating a vague sense of cognitive dissonance by arguing that partner data cannot meaningfully be included while simultaneously making no effort to offer any remedy or alternative.

For an example of the latter, see the number of times "could be", "possibly", "despite this", and "this being said" feature in disclosure communications that lean towards describing the situation ("women are not proportionately represented in senior positions") rather than explaining the causes and related actions ("we have identified these barriers using these methods; our proposed solution is this and we will evaluate the work like this").

Finally, communicate a narrative that looks consequentially at gender in the workplace.

In one direction, this means producing and sharing impact equality assessments for policies relating to gender to see which segment of employees benefit and who, therefore, does not benefit. In the other direction, this means aligning yourself with Jo Swinson MP’s Private Members’ Bill and publishing information on parental leave and maternity pay policies, thus shifting the onus away from candidates asking in interviews and signalling a serious desire to support, those for whom paternity and maternity pay is a significant consideration when weighing up a job move.

PR and communications practitioners can help turn mandated compliance into thorough narratives and – with that – be at the forefront of fixing the gender pay gap.

Nicholas Dunn-McAfee is head of public affairs, policy, and research at the PRCA

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