Put your little stone in the great mosaic

07 March 2018. Published by Kelly Thomson, Partner, ESG strategy lead

This year's International Women's Day (IWD) lands right in the middle of a growing groundswell of demand for gender equality.

Global appetite for change has shown itself recently in high profile campaigns like #metoo and Time's Up; in the BBC equal pay and gender pay gap debates and in any number of high profile cross-sector job losses as we navigate the post-Weinstein landscape.

IWD is a day designed to galvanize such desire for change into real, sustainable action by people, by business and by government. And on Thursday 8th March many of us will pause for thought. In our reflections, one question will come up time and time again: what can I actually do to improve gender equality?

It's a question I think (and talk!) about a lot. As an employment lawyer I have the privilege of working with and learning (OK, shamelessly borrowing) ideas from lots of inspirational individuals and businesses that are truly committed to answering this question. Their strides in this area are often part of a much broader diversity and inclusion commitment, within which gender equality is a key pillar. For the most part, there is agreement on a common goal and on the ability for individual people and businesses to effect real change if they have the will and the tools. As women's rights activist Alice Paul said "I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end."

Inspired by those individuals and businesses, I suggest here some practical ideas your organisation could consider if you want to play a part in moving the needle on gender equality. Even if you are not, personally, in a leadership role, could you find a route to propose an idea to someone in your workplace who is? And if you are a business leader, is there an initiative that you will stand behind and sponsor?

1. Measure, measure, measure again

There's a saying (of somewhat disputed origin) that "what gets measured gets managed". And this idea is the basis for the gender pay gap reporting regime. By 5th April, UK employers covered by the legislation should have measured, and reported on, their gender pay and bonus gaps. Many will have found the process enlightening in terms of understanding what is at the root of any gender pay gap in their organisation.

But this reporting is just a first step. Next is the real work of trying to improve those statistics. Putting the data in a drawer to be dusted off only when 2019's reporting cycle rolls round would be, at best, a missed opportunity.

Whatever measures your organisation is considering to improve female progression (which is, of course, at the heart of the gender pay gap issue), think about how you ensure accountability. If your line managers are measured on short-term financial metrics alone, is real cultural change very likely?

2. Set pay for a job without reference to the recruit's existing salary

California has recently enacted a law which prohibits employers from relying upon salary history information when deciding whether to offer employment or what salary to offer a job applicant. This simple measure could have a fairly radical effect on the gender pay gap.

In the UK, we don't have this specific law (though we do have tangentially relevant legislation including on equal pay). But a business could decide to apply to itself a similar rule. Why would it? Because using an individual recruit's existing salary as a baseline risks perpetuating any existing cycle of disparate pay. Whereas setting the salary for a role on a more neutral basis can still take into account relevant market forces whilst also levelling the playing field.

3. Commit to a female leadership target

Quotas are divisive. For every person who feels they smack of tokenism, there is another who believes that a quota can be a pragmatic way to speed up the pace of change.

Putting quotas to one side, what is your view on targets? A target of, say, 30% female board members by 2020, does not require a company to "positively discriminate". Nor must it lead to under qualified women somehow "leapfrogging" better performing men to the top. But it can be an effective way for a business to ensure focus on proactively identifying and nurturing its female talent pipeline. This is particularly so if the target is made public and supported by a deadline.

4. Launch an Allies campaign

Stonewall say "…we know the power and the necessity of allies to transform workplace cultures from unaccepting to accepting and from accepting to actively inclusive for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people."

This powerful way to support an inclusive culture can be applied to any strand of diversity, including gender.

For example, at RPC we have recently launched an Allies programme which will include talks, learning opportunities, and social events. The programme is part of the firm's commitment to an inclusive working environment for everyone. The aim is to offer a network of friendly faces and approachable people to lend support where needed. The activities that make up our programme will be focussed on one inclusion & diversity stream every six months, including: carers, disability, ethnicity, faith, LGBT+, mental health, socio-economic background and, of course, gender.

5. Start with an assumption that all roles can be performed flexibly

The Fawcett Society is campaigning for employers to advertise all jobs in their organisation as flexible, part-time or a job share

My good friend Sophie (a very successful businesswoman) and I once tried to write a list of the jobs we thought could probably/definitely, never be performed flexibly. We came up with two: World Leader and Pop Star (the second largely driven by Sophie's horror at the prospect of Rhianna sending a job-share partner to perform at the O2 in her stead).

Assuming you are not recruiting the next Prime Minister, President or X-Factor winner, is it naïve of me to ask if there are jobs in your organisation that can only ever be done by one full-time person? Maybe there genuinely are and that's fine. But it is still a worthwhile exercise to run the rule over that default position and to check if it stands up to scrutiny. And not just because of the potential risk of indirect sex discrimination, though that is important. But also because the dire lack of available, good, senior, flexible jobs contributes hugely to the gender pay gap and to the loss of talent from the workplace which is very much to all of our detriments.

Every year, on 8th March, we are each issued a call to arms. This year, we are being asked to #PressforProgress. With that in mind, which little stones will you put in the great mosaic?


About the author

Kelly is an experienced employment lawyer who works with clients on complex international and national employment matters, with particular focus on outsourcing, restructuring and the people aspects of organisational change. Kelly works alongside clients' HR and Legal teams in developing and implementing strategies for the recruitment, retention and motivation of employees. She has a focus on 'employee engagement' and is passionate about issues of diversity and inclusion.  For more information on how RPC can help you with your gender pay gap and equality initiatives please email: GenderPay@rpc.co.uk.

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