Shining a light on salary, seniority and gender

In the same week that the appointment of new GSK CEO-elect Emma Walmsley was announced to great fanfare, making her one of a handful of women at the helm of FTSE 100 companies, comes news from research by the London School of Economics that a mere 18% of the UK’s top earners are female. The report categorises the top 1% of earners as being people earning over £119,000 per annum by the way, just in case you were imagining this meant multi-millionaires. When it comes to the top 0.1% of earners (£456,000 per year or more), just 9% are women – so it looks like Ms Walmsley is going to be part of a very exclusive club indeed.

The glass ceiling isn’t splintering exactly but it is getting thinner I think, with greater numbers of women being paid at higher levels, although it’s still a tightly closed book right at the very top. And you’re right, salary isn’t everything but it’s a reasonable surrogate for seniority in my opinion, especially when taking gender differences into account.  The less people are earning, the higher the percentage of women – amongst people earning more than £40,400 per year (the top 10%), 28% are women.  These results are echoed across a number of countries that the LSE researchers looked at, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Norway and Spain, and they commented in The Guardian that whilst the share of women in the top 10% and top 1% in the UK has risen since the 1990s, the share of women in the top 0.1% was little changed.

Just two weeks ago another report, this time by the University of Wisconsin in the US and the University of Warwick and Cass Business School in the UK debunked the commonly held belief that women’s pay lags behind that of men at least in part because women aren’t as likely to ask for a payrise.  On that basis, it would appear that it isn’t so much that women don’t ask, as that they don’t get – the research found women ask for payrises just as often as men, but men are 25% more likely to get a raise when they ask.

Discussions around salary are often one of the things people find most difficult when they are changing jobs or even when being promoted internally. As I’ve written before, knowing how much you’re worth can be difficult, and it’s important to ensure that you go into any of these situations well informed. The PRCA announced this month that it’s going to include gender pay gap reporting in its accreditation for consultancies, in a first that will challenge agencies to actively address this issue.  In January of this year, Tom Cox, the president of the IPA (representing the UK advertising, media and communications agency business) set a goal that women will hold 40% of senior positions within all agencies and at each stage of the career ladder by 2020. No doubt their annual census will also highlight where its members stand in relation to parity of salary across genders.

Emma Walmsley’s salary will be a matter of public record (just FYI Sir Andrew Witty’s current package is £6.7million) but for those of us who don’t have access to that kind of information about the level of remuneration appropriate for the role we’re taking up, the work being done by the PRCA and IPA to expose gender-related differences in pay and opportunity will be invaluable.  And, despite the World Economic Forum’s rather gloomy 2014 prediction that we’ll have to wait until 2095 for gender parity in the workplace, we are making progress.

The takeaway? If we keep on asking, if we keep on reminding ourselves and others of the true value we bring to the business, we can bring about change in our workplaces faster and more effectively than ever before. Knowledge is power and the more light companies and organisations shine on the gender pay and opportunity gap, the less acceptable it will be.

The story of our youth…

In the UK, the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain has become a bit of an institution over the 60 years since it was founded by the legendary Michael Croft. For me as a teenager some 30 years ago (gulp) it was somewhat of a lifeline when, at the third time of auditioning, I was accepted onto one of their summer courses.  It opened my eyes to a world beyond London and the suburbs, and brought me into contact with people I would otherwise never have met.

On Sunday I attended the NYT’s 60th Anniversary Diamond Gala at the Shaftesbury Theatre, and “Story of Our Youth” was mesmerising – not because of the many starry alumni present – but because of the sheer energy of the 90-strong young cast.  Many of those young people had not been on a stage before that night, but the level of professionalism was daunting and would put many seasoned performers to shame. As I sat there I recalled the things that I learned during my time at the NYT and how they have served me during a career that did not include treading the boards after all, but focused on the effective communication of information about health and wellbeing  – something that unites all of us at one time or another.

Paul Roseby, the current Director of the NYT summed it up very succinctly when he declared that the performances we’d just seen and indeed the work of the National Youth Theatre itself epitomised a currently unfashionable word: ensemble. I don’t think he just meant an ensemble cast though, I think what he really meant is what we achieve when teams work seamlessly together, when by acting together we are more powerful than we might be as individuals, and where each person has an opportunity to shine (and nobody feels threatened by that because we’re all too busy playing to our strengths).

Of course, to do that you have to feel confident about your worth in the first place. Channel 4 News Anchor and NYT alumni Krishnan Guru-Murthy had it right when he said that for those of us who didn’t end up ‘following the dream’ what the National Youth Theatre had given him was self-confidence and self-belief. I think that’s as true now as it was then. For every James Bond (and the NYT has two – Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig, both of whom made a point of thanking the organisation for giving them opportunities they would never otherwise have had) there are many people not in that world whose achievements started when somebody saw something in them and gave them a chance.

Lastly, and perhaps most powerfully, what the NYT gave me was an acceptance and celebration of difference. In a time when the debate about diversity and opportunity (or the lack of it) is raging, the NYT stands as an organisation which has been consistently supportive of people across the spectrum – the only discriminator is talent in their eyes. Their bursaries support young people in financial hardship who can’t afford to attend their excellent courses, and they have championed new writers and backstage talent with as much gusto as those standing in the spotlight.

Like I say, I learned a lot in a few short weeks and imbibed some lessons that have stood me in good stead throughout my career – and that are as important today as they were then. Who doesn’t want to be part of an ensemble, to feel confident in themselves, and to support diversity of opportunity for all? Thanks, NYT.

Getting real about entrepreneurship

Last night I went to a talk given by Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, otherwise known as The Black Farmer, founder of a company that produces award-winning gluten-free sausages, burgers and other meat products.  He’s a fascinating man, born in Jamaica and brought up in inner-city Birmingham (he was refreshingly frank about his early life and the disadvantages he had to overcome growing up) who spoke about his childhood dream of owning a farm, and how he managed to achieve it.

Along the way and despite dyslexia and a lack of qualifications, he became a BBC producer working on the Food & Drink programme, married and raised a family, and built a well-respected food and drink marketing company. He spoke eloquently about the people who saw something in him and offered a helping hand when he needed it, and of the importance of believing passionately in what you do.

His energy as he spoke reminded me so vividly of the early days of building my business, when my business partner and I were so driven and focused on creating an agency we really believed in. We lived it 24/7 and I wouldn’t swap those exhausting days when all we thought about was how to bring our vision to life for anything. Emmanuel-Jones’ evident desire to challenge, his dissatisfaction with the status quo and his level of self-knowledge was extraordinarily inspiring.

If you’re expecting to achieve a work-life balance in your first three years of running your own business, then you’re never going to succeed, he said. It has to be your absolute focus, and you have to be absolutely determined to make a go of it. It’s incredibly hard work and whilst it’s exhilarating when it’s going well, founding, running and growing a business from scratch is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Looking back, I’d say that’s bang on from my experience, and I wasn’t alone.  As I sat there with fellow entrepreneurs, some of whom had built and sold businesses, others who were still in the development phase, the energy fairly crackled in the air.

Entrepreneurship is a state of mind, he said – and he’s so right. It’s about being prepared to take risks, to innovate, to cut through all of the clutter to get to the heart of an issue and make decisions (then make another one quickly if the first one wasn’t right).  It’s about listening, understanding and, most important of all, taking action. Those things don’t have to be unique to independent businesses though, and bringing an entrepreneurial mindset to bigger organisations is possible if you can create the right environment for your people.

Be open to challenge, encourage lively minds to identify new approaches to problem solving, try not to feel threatened by new thinking, but above all else, enable people to ask the question: “why not?”.  If you’re the one with the ideas, you don’t always have to go it alone, so long as you’re in an organisation that welcomes innovation. If you’ve spotted a gap in the market or have an idea that could elevate your business to a higher level, give yourself permission to imagine it and then bring it to life, even if that’s a single sheet of A4 paper capturing the germ of something great – then share it. In my experience, real leaders find a way to open the door to novel thinking rather than feeling threatened by it.  Passion is infectious and in the right organisation with the right leadership, anything really is possible.

It’s not about the shoes

Last week the Social Mobility Commission released a report looking at socio-economic diversity in life sciences and investment banking. You might be forgiven for thinking that the story was all about the danger of wearing brown shoes with a blue suit if you’re looking for a job in the City, judging by the media coverage, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Turns out, people in investment banking tend to hire people who are like themselves. Now there’s a surprise (not). Then again, equally startlingly,  people in life sciences organisations end up hiring people who’ve gone to the most well-known or prestigious universities. And, guess what, students from non-privileged backgrounds tend not to go to the elite universities from which employers prefer to select candidates – and even when they do, those students self-select out of the recruitment process if they feel they won’t fit in or that employers aren’t seeking diversity in their organisation.

None of this is particularly new, in fact it’s depressingly familiar.  Regardless of whether you have a degree or not, for many people who don’t display the same speech patterns, accent, behaviour and dress sense as their interviewers, the path to a job offer is that much harder.

That’s not all. According to the Social Mobility Commission’s 2015 research, a degree doesn’t have the same value for all graduates. Even when you account for differences in institution and subject, students from higher income families earn around 10% more. And Black African degree-holders are 14% less likely than their white peers to be in professional work 6 months after graduation. So, even if you’ve made it to university, coming from non-privileged backgrounds means you remain at a disadvantage as you enter the world of work.

How can we change this? Well, there continue to be important and influential drives within the creative and communications industries to increase the diversity of our workforce to ensure equal access to opportunity based on talent alone – there are great organisations like The Ideas Foundation and Creative Access that make a huge difference in encouraging young people from all backgrounds to break into our field.  The innovative Publicis Lab for Bright Sparks scheme is now in its third year (disclaimer: I was involved in its initial development some years ago), with applications closing 9 September 2016 and is a great example of how to attract a different kind of talent into the workplace.

There’s more to be done though, and one of the most important things we can do to drive and support diversity in our industry is to break the code. By that I mean helping interviewers and candidates at all levels to understand some of the unwritten rules that influence the way they assess and are assessed.  We need a level of self-knowledge as interviewers that helps us to challenge our unconscious preconceptions and prejudices so that we are able to see more clearly what someone has to offer rather than perhaps being put off by the fact they speak differently or don’t present themselves in a way that makes you feel comfortable in putting them in front of a client. It’s especially important when it comes to entry level roles to hire for talent, not for polish, because whilst you can help people to bring a bit of shine to the way they operate, it’s nothing without the spark inside.

As senior leaders and practitioners, the advice above probably reads a bit “grandmother: eggs” but let’s not forget that for many new graduates and entry level candidates, their first interview almost certainly won’t be with you – it’ll probably be with a mid-manager, someone unlikely to have the same level of training and interview experience that you have built up over the years. As we develop new managers and coach them through the best ways to identify talent, let’s not forget to teach them how to identify and eliminate their own unconscious biases, so that those uniquely diverse individuals we’re looking for don’t get weeded out during the first round before you even get to meet them.