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The gender pay gap is a narrative gap

Sharn Kleiss 08 October 2021

Underground station

This week, the Financial Times reported a widening gender pay gap, with women paid 87p for every £1 paid to men in April 2020 - worse than in 2019, when the pay gap was 12.8 per cent, and in 2018, when the gap was 11.9 per cent.


While the wider gap is disappointing, we’re not wholly surprised. So, let us take you through one potential reason for these numbers.


As you can probably guess, the gender pay gap reflects a higher proportion of women in more junior levels and fewer women in more senior roles. Now, we can take an educated leap that more senior roles will likely be filled by women several years into their careers (read: 30+; those more likely, by age, to have children).


With caring responsibilities a major reason for women to drop out of full-time work across their career (not to mention the further impacts from the pandemic-triggered ‘she-cession’), you can now add to that the great resignation, combined with a specialist skills shortage.


Long story short: it’s remarkably difficult to hire anyone these days. 


So, before we pass judgments on the banks and law firms guiltiest of the largest gaps, let’s consider their way forward.


Even if these businesses suddenly became more flexible, improved their benefits and levelled up their working culture (never mind the potential misogyny once you’re through the door), we simply can’t magic hundreds of thousands of senior-level-job-seeking women out of thin air.


What’s a business to do?


Fill the talent pipeline. Invest in women, starting them out in junior roles. Train graduates up now, and reap the rewards in the future.


The result? On paper: a wider pay gap.


While very loose and unscientific, this scenario highlights why it’s now more important than ever that organisations get their stories straight when reporting the figures. You can start to see why gender pay gap data alone may not be enough.


What is surprising, however, is just how many organisations are relying on just the numbers alone.


Our recent survey on D&I reporting practices asked people professionals across a breadth of industries how they were communicating their progress.


We found that while 63% of respondents’ efforts featured basic tables and numbers and 59% showed graphs and infographics, fewer than half (only 46%) featured an accompanying narrative to put it all in perspective.


An extrapolation of those figures would mean more than half of businesses are missing a huge opportunity. They’re not telling the story of how their numbers came to be, and what that means to their strategic objectives.


More surprising still, our survey found that only 17% of reporting communications included employee voices, such as profiles and interviews.


Another missed opportunity is to promote their business to potential candidates, showcase their employees’ first-hand experience, and reassure stakeholders that they’re doing the right thing by their people.


With a groundswell of scrutiny around social impact, sustainability and diversity and inclusion practices from both stakeholders and employees alike, in addition to mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting on the horizon, it’s more important than ever that organisations apply some context to their numbers and utilise narrative as a testament toward accountability.


If you need help with your inclusion and diversity narrative, please get in touch. We’ll be sharing all the data referenced in this piece along with further insights and practical recommendations in an upcoming report 'Driving D&I: diversity reporting with direction. 


Please register your interest to receive further news on its development, and invite to its launch webinar, here.