Mind the pay gap: How to achieve parity in PR



#FuturePRoof launched earlier this month with the purpose of asserting the value of public relations as a management discipline. A new chapter is being shared every day on the site. Here’s my contribution, the very last chapter, released early to mark Equal Pay Day. You can find out more and download the full book via www.futureproofingcomms.co.uk. Join the conversation on Twitter at @weareproofed. 

UK business has a major issue with equal pay, with women working ‘for free’ for 1 hour and 40 minutes a day according to research by the Chartered Management Institute and XPertHR.  In female-dominated industries like PR, the problem is even more acute. Parity in the workplace can be achieved: here are some steps you can take to make this happen.

In July 2015, the Conservatives announced plans to force large companies to publish the difference in earnings between male and female staff in a bid to ensure equal pay.

Currently in Britain, female workers are paid on average 19.1% less than their male counterparts and this applies across both full-time and part-time positions, according to the Office of National Statistics.

While the stringent new regulations will only apply to those employing more than 250 staff, it’s a step in the right direction. Gender pay transparency is one sure fire way to creating a fairer job market.

Management teams need to be accountable for the recruitment and reward measures they put in place if parity is to be achieved and then maintained.

Publishing salary data means directors have nowhere to hide and forces them to deal with discrepancies.

Change can be fast and effective

Despite the change in law not coming into effect until 2016, there are a handful of UK businesses already committed to this course of action. Their results underline how quickly change can be effected.

Take PwC, which in November 2014 was the first in its industry sector to undertake and publish pay gap analysis after two years reporting its diversity targets.

It identified an immediate issue with the balance of senior talent and trebled the number of female internal promotions compared to the previous twelve months. A lack of women in senior positions often plays a sizeable part of the pay gap.

The top four accountancy firm also introduced a range of initiatives that help its people achieve their potential, from Board level mentoring schemes, women’s leadership programmes to diversity training.

While emulating its now annual equal pay review may admittedly be beyond the capabilities and cost base of many smaller companies, PwC’s best practice and forward-thinking stance is one we can all learn from. Employers should look to follow suit.

Sadly it’s hard to name one employer in the communications business focusing on the problem in this way.

We can’t wait any longer

It’s a critical issue for the PR sector and one we need urgently to deal with.

For close to two years now, gender parity and the pay gap has been a key policy area for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

Its State of the Profession Survey identified a salary discrepancy of £8,483 in favour of men. This cannot be explained by any other factor such as length of service, seniority, parenthood, or a higher prevalence of part-time work among women.

It’s a sobering thought when over two-thirds of practitioners in the profession are female.

This major disparity is compounded by the problem of senior female talent dropping out after maternity leave. Many practitioners cite being unable to balance work and life pressures.

It is imperative we break down the barriers that prevent women progressing in the workplace.

Policies are in place

Some work is underway. In 2014 the CIPR teamed with Sheila Wild from the Equal Pay Portal to look for potential solutions to the issue and provide policy direction.

The return to work process was identified as one creating issues for employers and employees alike, resulting in the production of ten practical best practice guides developed with the help of The Talent Keeper Specialists.

From handing over and keeping in touch through to role renegotiation, the toolkits help those involved find a solution to suit all parties.

The CIPR’s production of nine recommendations for enabling flexible working in PR has also been useful in making strides forward.

Aimed at helping employers manage the shift to a round the clock service provision as dictated by 24/7 online and offline media, while delivering work-life balance for staff, the guides are equally beneficial in helping parents achieve hours that are better suited to managing both work needs and childcare.

Useful as they are, the next step with these guides must be to replace the word flexible with agile. While this might seem a small difference, it’s not. Using non-discriminatory language is critical in the movement towards equality in the workplace.

Agile working is seen to be about keeping pace with the way the working environment is changing, as well as a way to help staff strike a balance between work and home.

In contrast, flexible working is tarnished with being something that in the main only working mums want and need, with a lack of commitment almost implicit within this.

Changing perceptions is part of the answer and it’s something everyone can help with.

It’s also a question of skillset

The truth of the matter is that the gender pay gap will only become a thing of the past when all organisations have to publish salary data to show they are complying with legislation.

Employers can make a big difference however if they are prepared to be ethical, honest and employ best practice.

Human resources is a case in point. A serious issue with pay in the PR industry is a lack of experience by those managing people and performance.

Outside of the largest agencies and public sector, the industry is dominated by SMEs where the human resources (HR) function is often managed by a member of PR staff. Internal or external HR specialists are rarely brought in.

Without best practice policies or the use of competency frameworks, it’s easy to see how and why the system fails without oversight of an expert eye.

It’s a business not a gender issue

The Government Equalities Office states that closing the gender pay gap could add 10% to the size of our economy by 2030.

This is most definitely a business not a gender issue.

A female-dominated industry like PR should be an exemplar to the rest of the UK. The challenge is for us to make it a reality.

Ten steps for achieving parity of pay in PR

  1. Be transparent with your pay structure
  2. Use an HR specialist for your people and performance needs
  3. Have a Board with an even gender balance (if deemed necessary only ever use quotas as an interim measure)
  4. Monitor hires and promotions by gender and diversity
  5. Adopt agile working as a business model and consider part-time and job share solutions, as well as freelance support
  6. Support parents in identifying and securing affordable childcare
  7. Enable access to leadership programmes
  8. Signpost to / deliver mentoring schemes
  9. Normalise shared parental leave
  10. Use language carefully – agile over flexible working every time.


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