Bad gender pay gap headlines can't be fixed by spin doctors who don't get it

More than three quarters of firms pay men more than women, yet many (men) insist there is no such thing as the gender pay gap, arguing it is a statistical creation that allows women to feel hard done by.

Slow claps all round for some of the biggest players in PR, says Vanessa Pine
Slow claps all round for some of the biggest players in PR, says Vanessa Pine

It may be a crude metric, but that doesn’t mean it cannot tell us something meaningful and powerful.

Worsening numbers drove headlines for HSBC, KPMG, EasyJet (and others), but the biggest difference was in the volume of coverage.

There were five times as many pay gap articles in March 2018 than March 2019.

Some have suggested 'good news' should be scrutinised for potentially gaming the system.

Whereas widening gaps may be the result of hiring lots of young women, who will eventually make their way through the ranks, this kind of nuance is hard to convey in a headline, which is why corporates need advisers that understand the problem.

Walking the walk should be a good starting point, yet not all spin doctors are equal when it comes to equality.

PR’s pay gap is growing (rising from 17.8 per cent to 21 per cent in two years) and is significantly worse than the 8.6% national gap.

But a pay gap in PR is not inevitable and, with a workforce that is more than two thirds female nor is it ideal, especially when it comes to attracting the best talent. 

Many of the great institutions of the agency world talk about their gender pay gaps with a degree of helplessness that is depressing.

Vanessa Pine, co-founder of Atlas Partners

And yet many of the great institutions of the agency world talk about their gender pay gaps with a degree of helplessness that is depressing.

Edelman’s gap last year was 10 per cent, which they explained by describing the structure that created it, rather than asking why that structure exists.

So it’s no surprise to see their gap widen to 13.4 per cent, and their eye-watering bonus pay gap increase. Either they don’t understand the problem, or they are doing a poor job of spinning it.

FTI Consulting reported the largest pay gap, at 32.2 per cent, putting it down to providing services beyond PR that are historically male-dominated.

They aim to recruit 100 female senior directors by 2020, which by my maths means just 20 per cent - slow claps all round.

PS If half your junior hires are women but less than one in five of your senior managers are female, you have a cultural problem not a recruitment one.

However, Golin’s gender pay gap is in favour of women, and Hill+Knowlton has moved from a 3.9 per cent gap in favour of men to a 2.36 per cent gap in favour of women – showing what can be achieved when you put your mind to it.

So, I say again, a pay gap in PR is not inevitable.

Reputation vs productivity 

Motivation here should go beyond reputation management. Every business should invest in diversity to make it more productive, not simply to look good.

Hiring people who do not look, talk, or think like you reduces risk and encourages innovation. Countless studies show equality is good for business, but we still don’t act like we believe it.

How can the PR industry think it can build brilliant, creative, perception-shifting campaigns, when it looks nothing like the audiences it’s trying to reach?

It’s either arrogance or ignorance.

Fixing this isn’t a ‘girls job’ where we talk only about women’s career and lifestyle choices.

As men become more aware of the problem, having to collect and address the stark data, they, too, can help as powerful agents for change. Male agency bosses take heed.

The same unhelpful gender stereotypes that teach girls to be good, not bossy, also teach boys not to cry.
These attitudes and behaviours should not be overlooked when searching for solutions.

Mental health support at work and shared parental leave for men are just as important as affordable childcare and negotiation skills for women in the executive pipeline.

Vanessa Pine is the co-founder of Atlas Partners and a former special adviser to the minister for business and equalities, when the pay gap regulations were introduced

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