Pandemic proves transparency not enough to close gender pay gap

By Sarah Leembruggen, MD, The Works Search.

It’s no surprise that the pandemic has had a knock-on effect on salaries and bonuses for corporate communications professionals.  We expected it after seeing redundancies, professionals on furlough, hiring freezes and agency’s budgets being cut.  However, what I didn’t foresee is how much women have been affected financially from the pandemic.

The findings from our most recent Salary Guide reflect the turmoil that businesses experienced during 2020.  We polled 400 comms professionals from corporate agencies and in-house comms teams and the results revealed that men received a pay increase of 3.26% and women 2.96%.  Now this 0.3% extra for men doesn’t sound much, but why is this still happening when we all are very aware of the gender pay gap?

It’s not enough for employers to be transparent about their pay gap and nudge things forward gradually to rectify discrepancies when pay inconsistencies are still happening now.  I also noted with other findings from the survey that the bias is clear – women are not getting a fair deal when it comes to pay, bonuses and redundancies.  These are just a few findings –

  • 16% of women were asked to take a cut compared to 12% of men
  • 54% of women received a bonus compared to 68% of men
  • 10% of women’s bonuses were cancelled compared to 4% of men
  • 5% of women’s roles were made redundant compared to 3.5% of men

The irony of this is that women are largely happy with their pay (64% of women are happy with their pay compared to 60% of men).  So why is that?  When women are clearly getting the rough end of the deal and not being rewarded as well as their male counterparts for doing the same role, why are they happy with their pay?

Anecdotally, as an exec search consultant, I regularly hear women talk about what’s important to them in their career and pay will come up often alongside flexibility.  It’s clear that they’ve put a value around flexibility rather than expecting an employer to be flexible.  Some women will say that ‘money isn’t important’ and a ‘great culture and flexibility is just as important’.  I can tell you this, a man will never say this.

We have just worked from home through a pandemic and surely employers have woken up to agile working?  Assuming this is the case, then flexibility will start to become a norm and women will hopefully stop putting a value around this commodity.  I do feel, unless women expect more from their employers, ask for more, insist on more, these differences won’t go away.  Employers will only pay what they must for a role and yes, they need to be more accountable, but I would implore female comms professionals to insist on better pay increases and get really savvy as to what their role is worth on the market.

These findings only show that there is a way to go when it comes to fair pay and treatment from employers. However, with the working world changing its perspective on agile working, there is an opportunity here to level things up.

Sarah Leembruggen partners with a select number of CEOs, Heads of Marketing & Comms and Corporate PR Agency heads to build high performing comms teams and has done so for over 17 years.

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