When it comes to challenging pay inequality, you must be bold for change

Written by
Ruth Sacks

06 Jun 2017

06 Jun 2017 • by Ruth Sacks

Over the next year, all UK organisations with 250 or more staff are legally required to analyse pay by gender, so as to identify gender pay gaps. They must make these figures public by 4th April 2018. But unfortunately there is no requirement for companies to act on what they discover. So how can a requirement to share this information make a difference if companies have no incentive to make changes?

In the absence of legislation or government incentives, the rest of us – women and men – should be ‘Bold for Change’, and challenge, question and debate. 

It is up to each organisation that discovers pay differences to think not just about how they can rectify these, but also about what has caused these gaps in the first place. And, importantly, consider what you need to do to change behaviours and attitudes to make a gender pay gap a thing of the past. 

Looking beyond pay to wider equality issues

We are working until later in our lives and age is no longer a guarantee of seniority or, indeed, expertise. Even those of us working in public sector organisations are being encouraged to be entrepreneurial. The work environment is now often described as VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) and we all need to step up and take some responsibility for what happens next and how. 

Closing the gender pay gap means according equal value to everyone in their roles and responsibilities. Sustaining this is not just about pay, but about the policies that support equal opportunity in working life, so that everyone – irrespective of gender – has the same opportunities to achieve a work life balance that is fair to all. 

So, for example, policies for parental leave should be equally open to men and women and, of course, offer the same return to work opportunities to all. Similarly, all staff should have the same opportunities to work flexibly (e.g. in school term-time, from home, etc.). Many organisations already have such policies in place. However, sometimes staff may not feel able to take advantage of them due to fears of limiting their career progression. 

Leading beyond your authority to effect change

Every organisation is different. Culture, ethos, values and ways of working are all bound up in an organisation’s history, its successes, challenges and leadership. This means that for example if being at your desk five days a week is a key value and is seen to be the best way to work, a flexible working policy will have no value.

It’s often said that for an organisation’s working practices to change, the people at the top need to lead by example first. To a great extent, that’s true. But leadership can no longer be driven solely from the top of an organisation. If we want the forthcoming reports on gender pay differentials to lead to change, no matter what level in the hierarchy we occupy, we have to be bold enough to look at the figures, ask questions and demand action.
We have to take the same approach where other change – like ensuring everyone has equal opportunity to take advantage of flexible working – needs to happen across the organisation. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make the changes stick. 

Being bold for change is for life – not just for International Women’s Day.