Be Bold For Change

Thursday 8 March is International Women’s Day, a global day “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women”. It also marks a call to action to accelerate gender parity, something which is close to my heart and which I have written about in the past.

Do I think ‘international days of…’ continue to have value? Or generalised awareness weeks? Well, they certainly have their place but from a media standpoint unless you have something to say, an awareness initiative on its own is difficult to make newsworthy. For example, today (Monday 27 Feb) has been designated Strawberry Day, Polar Bear Day and Kahlua Day, and I can’t say I’ve seen any stellar coverage of any of these topics as I write.

One of the things I do think is interesting about International Women’s Day is the increasing involvement of big name businesses and organisations supporting this UN-led initiative, such as bp, Pepsico, AECOM, Metlife and Avon. The 2017 campaign theme is #BeBoldForChange and the lead sponsor is Ernst & Young.  Amongst a wide variety of events and initiatives, the HBA (Healthcare Businesswomens Association) is holding a three-hour virtual summit that can be accessed globally by its membership, and the WOW – Women of the World festival is taking place at the Southbank Centre in London from 7-10 March, sponsored by Bloomberg. You can find out more about these and other events at

Here are some of the ways in which the organisers suggest that everyone can take action to support women and shorten the estimated 170 years still to go before gender parity

#BeBoldForChange and …

  • boycott all-male speaking panels
  • pull people up on exclusive language
  • challenge stereotypes
  • call it out when women are excluded
  • question all-male shortlists
  • monitor the gender pay gap
  • point out bias and highlight alternatives
  • embrace inclusive leadership
  • redefine the status quo

#BeBoldForChange and …

  • decide to buy from companies that support women
  • choose to work for a progressive employer for women
  • support or back a woman-owned business
  • take a junior female colleague to a major meeting or event
  • build conducive, flexible work environments
  • appoint a woman to the board
  • mentor a woman and sponsor her goals
  • invite women into situations where they’re not already present or contributing
  • measure and report on gender parity gaps and keep gender on the agenda
  • create new opportunities for women

#BeBoldForChange and …

  • raise women’s visibility as spokespeople in the media
  • drive fairer recognition and credit for women’s contributions
  • launch even more awards showcasing women’s success
  • hail the success of women leaders
  • applaude social, economic, cultural and polical women role models
  • celebrate women’s journeys and the barriers overcome
  • reinforce and support women’s triumphs

What will I be doing for #IWD2017? I’m looking forward to meeting up with some of the amazingly talented and inspirational female leaders in the WHAM (Women in Health Agency Management) networking group and seeing how we can collectively #BeBoldForChange. I’d love to know what you and your organisations are doing to make change happen and support women to achieve their greatest potential.

Happy Equal Pay Day?

Today is Equal Pay Day in the UK. What does that mean? It’s not just another opportunity to talk about the gender pay gap, 10 November 2016 marks the day from which women in full time jobs will in effect be working for free until the end of the year. Last year’s Equal Pay Day was 9 November, so we’ve made pretty much zero progress over the last twelve months in reducing a pay gap between men and women of almost 14% (13.9% to be exact).

What’s shocking about this is that it’s been 46 years since the Equal Pay Act enshrined in law the rights of women to be paid the same as men if they were doing the same job.  46 years! It’s shocking that today in 2016 there is still this huge disparity in the way that women are valued in the workplace as opposed to men.

Now, here’s a question for you. Do you think Theresa May is paid less than David Cameron was for the job of Prime Minister?  Had Hillary Clinton made it to the White House, would she have been paid less than President Obama? Seems unthinkable, doesn’t it. The thing is, these are high profile roles where salary is a matter of public record, and it’s simply not a level playing field for many women working across a broad spectrum of industries.

Only a month ago, supermarket giant ASDA found itself braced for a class action suit, when an employment tribunal found in favour of 7,000 shop workers who complained that they were being paid between £1-£3 less than staff at distribution centres (most of whom are men). The company had tried to argue that because shops and distribution centres were in different locations, separate pay arrangements were justified. The tribunal found that ASDA could have made sure that there was equal pay between men and women if they wanted to, but chose not to, according to law firm Leigh Day, which represented the women. And they’re not alone – a similar action is being brought against Sainsbury’s on behalf of 400 workers in a similar situation.

Over the years I have read many articles and manifestos that place the blame for the pay gap on demographics and cultural issues, claiming that women choose lower stress lower pay roles, or that they prefer to be family carers, quite aside from any workplace discrimination. The truth is that there are a combination of factors which influence the gender pay gap, many of which need to be tackled long before girls reach the workplace.

The Women’s Equality Party (WE) is calling for a new approach to widen the conversation, with a new three part approach to tackle inequality:

First, to address workplace discrimination WE is calling for companies to publish pay data broken down by gender, ethnicity and disability as well as by pay, employment status and working hours, including retention rates during and after parental leave.

Secondly, WE believes that remodelling the UK education system to ensure all girls get an equal education – and to do this it asks that schools conduct a gender audit of the curriculum to ensure they promote role models challenging gender stereotypes, as well as offering quality, independent careers guidance that encourages girls to do science and boys to think creatively.

Finally, WE is calling for further investment in childcare to enable more women to return to the workplace without being penalised financially for doing so, and has made concrete proposals for how this could be funded. It also wants to encourage men to share in parental leave by breaking down both financial and cultural barriers, with fathers receiving non-transferable 6 weeks of parental leave at 90 percent of pay.

At the current rate of progress, it will take until 2069 to close the gender pay gap, and longer if you are a black or ethnic minority woman, or indeed an older woman. We can’t wait that long. If you are in a leadership role, man or woman, make time to examine and address this issue within your workforce – you might be surprised what you find. And of course, if you’re working in an organisation that employs more than 250 people it will shortly be a matter of public record anyway, as you will have to publish details of pay gap data in 2018.   We cannot take progress for granted, it is our collective responsibility to make sure our workplaces represent the very best practice, for both men and women.

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.

Making a Comeback?

With the continuing debate about workplace discrimination and the gender pay gap, it’s easy to forget just how much life has changed for working women over the past twenty or thirty years. I was vividly reminded of that when I came across a book aimed at women returning to work in the 1990s, written by my mother (who was a journalist and author specialising in careers) to accompany a BBC Radio 4 series of the same name.  Making a Comeback by Margaret Korving hit the Sunday Times Business Books top ten in 1991, and was written very much from the viewpoint of a working mother, as alongside sound advice on how to identify your skills and what training might be available, it also provided suggestions for how to juggle home vs work.

Modern conveniences such as freezers and microwaves were highly recommended, as was the use of timetables splitting responsibilities with family and friends so that washing, cleaning and childcare were all covered, so that the woman could go to work whilst continuing to run the house.  At the time, there was predicted to be a shortage of school leavers going into the workplace, and therefore employers were keen to attract a different kind of employee – the Equal Opportunities Director of the Midland Bank at the time, Anne Watts, wrote a foreword encouraging readers to return to work, saying that “enlightened employers will value your maturity, develop your skills and make you a very welcome ‘returner’”. The view then was that many women would have given up work completely on having children, and might only be thinking about returning once their children were at school.  Of course at that time, taking maternity leave might well have coincided with the introduction of new technology into the workplace so the fear of lacking computer skills referred to in the book was very real for many women.

The big thing that’s changed since then of course is that it’s now the expectation that women will return to work after maternity leave, although I do think that many of the other challenges are the same, especially when it comes to juggling work and home.

One of the major challenges that still affects women returners is the issue of confidence. I have worked with a number of hugely talented, highly competent women who on returning from maternity leave have plunged into a real crisis of confidence.  These seem to be rooted at least in part in redefining how they view themselves, and of managing the conflict many feel between work and home. Some have felt great guilt towards their teams because they are working shorter hours, believing that they are somehow ‘letting them down’, whilst others have struggled to adapt to the changes which have taken place in their absence, whether that’s about changes of clients or changes in the seniority of their colleagues.

As a manager, it took me some time to recognise what was happening – because I didn’t view them any differently, I didn’t understand that some women felt differently returning to work after maternity leave.  If we are to truly address what we now clearly know is the negative impact on women’s careers and salaries post maternity leave, then we need to build programmes and initiatives supporting women on their return to work. We need to build post-maternity induction schemes that go beyond ‘do your flexible hours suit you?’ to restore confidence, add skills and empower women to reach for career success alongside motherhood.

Golin London has partnered with former Starcom MediaVest director Liz Nottingham and f1 recruitment’s Amanda Fone on the Back2Businessship returner programme for the past two years – an initiative that supports parents struggling to re-enter the workplace after taking a career break. The programme combines career planning, help on how to approach the jobs market, confidence building sessions and practical advice on how to manage your first 90 days back in the workplace. What a great idea, and kudos to everyone involved for quietly getting on with an initiative that has the potential to make a real difference to many women.

The Golin London scheme is aimed at women who have been out of the workplace for more than three years – but what’s to stop other agencies taking elements of this programme and adapting it to support any woman returning to work after maternity, parental or extended family leave?  Every agency worth its salt will have a decent induction scheme for new employees, to which they really ought to be adding a return to work scheme. It’s time we provided practical support to restore confidence and accelerate women’s professional development and job satisfaction post-maternity leave. Let’s do it.

Time to build some bridges

It’s hard to ignore really, when the majority of newspapers and broadcasts highlight today’s Institute of Fiscal Studies report showing that on average, women earn 18% less than men. Catherine Mayer, co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party was on twitter this morning pleading with journalists keen to show ‘balance’ in their reporting not to field interviews with experts arguing that women choose to “put motherhood ahead of career” and that therefore it’s our own fault that we are paid less.  She’s right. Should we all stop having children altogether? Is that the only answer to addressing this issue?

As it happens, fewer women are having children. The birthrate in Europe is continuing to fall, with the only region bucking that trend being Scandinavia where – you’ve guessed it – there’s generous parental leave, subsidised childcare and a real focus on gender equality.  And, as our population continues to age, there’s a demographic timebomb just around the corner – the proportion of people aged 85+ in the UK is expected to rise sharply over the next 50 years.

But I digress. When it comes to narrowing the gender gap in the workplace, we know what the problem is. The pay gap widens once women return to work after having children (by the time your child is 12 years old, your hourly pay could lag behind that of men by as much as 33%), and it’s not just about parity of salary, it’s about parity of opportunity. Mark Crail, content director at XpertHR was quoted in the Guardian as saying “the gender pay gap is not primarily about men and women being paid differently for doing the same job. It’s much more about men being present in greater numbers than women the higher up the organisation you go. Our research shows that this gap begins to open up at relatively junior levels and widens – primarily because men are more likely to be promoted”.

Let’s be honest, the gap sometimes happens because of experience-lag. A man and a woman start work at the same company on the same day. Two years later she takes maternity leave and he doesn’t. When she returns he’s got three years’ experience and she’s got two – simple maths. But is it beyond us to create upskilling programmes that will help women returning from maternity leave to catch up?  If men are more confident when it comes to asking for a payrise or a promotion (which many studies have shown they are), it’s then a double-whammy for a woman returning to work. A bit less experience, someone who’s less skilled at asking for what they feel they deserve and bingo, the gap starts to widen.

It’s not all about having children and taking time out anyway, it’s about finding ways to change the way that we work so that we can accommodate greater flexibility for everyone. In the agency world, it’s not uncommon for clients to insist that they only want one point of contact. And it’s usually clients holding the biggest budgets (and therefore the largest agency teams) asking for the single point of contact.

I do get it, the fact that having lots of people asking you for information and to make decisions can be incredibly distracting when you’re busy enough as it is, but what happens within the agency is that staffing decisions get made sometimes on the basis of whether or not someone can be that 5-day a week client contact.   So, I have a fantastic client handler who’s ideal for the role, just the right experience and likely to be a good match from a chemistry point of view, but she’s working three days a week – what do I do?

Well, sometimes you can push back but often you can’t, not if you want to keep the business and keep the client happy.  And so another gap starts to open up for a woman who is bright, talented, hardworking and someone with a real future in the industry, even though a bit of flexibility from the client would mean I could pair her with someone and together they would be an even better answer for the client’s requirements.

As leaders we need to be constantly alert to these issues and modify our approach to address them. Equality isn’t something that just happens because of legislation, it’s something that happens when we think creatively about how to coach, enable, push and empower talented individuals to reach their full potential. We can’t always close the gap completely, however much we want to, but we must work harder to find ways to bridge it.

How much are you worth?

The thorny question of remuneration is in the news today, as the High Pay Centre analysis of annual reports found that the salaries of chief executives in the FTSE 100 had increased more than 10% last year compared to the previous year. It’d be interesting to know whether their respective company revenues and profits grew similarly, don’t you think?

Are you surprised though, to hear that of the five female chief executives within the FTSE 100, none were within the top ten best paid (and that’s data from 2014 and 2015). Funnily enough, according to The Times today, “ten companies…had no female executive directors and no women on the remuneration committees that draw up plans for pay and bonuses.”  So, not only is it tough for women to get to the top, if you do get there chances are you won’t be paid the same as your male counterparts.  And for most of us, how would you even know that you aren’t being rewarded in the same way, especially when it comes to discretionary elements of remuneration packages such as performance related bonuses?

The 2016 PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) looked at (amongst other things) the influence of gender on salary and remuneration in a survey of 1,874 people carried out by YouGov.  Across the board, women earned an average of £9,000 less than men – and where people were given a bonus, the average given to women was approximately £4,000, compared to an average of £6,000 for men.  Some of the differences can be explained by the fact that there are more men than women working at a senior level within PR agencies. As PR Week reported, in agencies women outnumbered men by three to one among the junior ranks, but two-thirds of board directors or partners were men.

A quick look at the WPP 2015 Annual Report reinforces the seniority issue. Women made up 29% of the board and 33% of staff working at director or executive leadership level, set against an overall 54% of employees. Similar numbers abound at other media holding companies. So, women are entering the industry in ever-increasing numbers but not making it to the higher levels of leadership in the same numbers as men.

There’s a belief amongst some Millennials that the gender gap is a generation gap, and that as Millennials increasingly climb the corporate ladder, the number of women in leadership roles will automatically even out, but that’s not going to happen without sustained support.  Most of the big agencies and holding companies have been putting in place programmes designed to engage with women, provide role models and networking opportunities (Publicis has VivaWomen, Omnicom has Omniwomen – you get the picture) so change is definitely coming, but there’s a lot more to be done.

As with so many things, knowledge is power, so if you don’t know whether you’re being rewarded appropriately for what you do, make it your business to find out.  Check in with trusted peers, speak to your HR department if you have one and if all else fails, have a chat with a friendly recruiter to benchmark what you’re worth.  There’s nothing wrong with negotiating, or for deciding to settle a little under market value if other aspects of the job you do outweigh the purely financial, but if you don’t know where you sit vs the rest of the world, you’re not in the best position to make the right decision for you.  Good luck – and remember, you’re worth it.