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Five Strategies for Narrowing the Gender Pay Gap

Five Strategies for Narrowing the Gender Pay Gap

The Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1983, but equal pay is still an issue; women lose out on nearly £140 billion a year given the gender pay gap. Recent pay gap reports indicate that women are also paid less than half of the salaries paid to men working for some of the UK’s biggest companies.

The gender pay gap has rightfully sparked rage in the recent years. It is measured by hourly wages, but the gap in overall earnings is actually about twice as big as the gap in hourly earnings, because women are more likely to work part-time. 41% of the women in UK work part-time as compared to 13% of men, as highlighted in Vicky Pryce's book Women vs. Capitalism.

Similarly, women experience a pension deficit that later affects their retirement. Perhaps one of the most striking reason for this wage disparity is that pay gap looks at pay but doesn’t take into consideration unpaid household chores. These kinds of tasks are the behind-the-scenes functions that keep people alive and healthy while enabling society to function, but are grossly undervalued or entirely unpaid.

Overall, the real gender gap is much more than is even evidenced by the pay gap. Having said that, organizations can take steps to narrow the gap.

Offer better parental leave.

Introducing non-transferable rights for each parent to take leave in the first year of their child’s birth has been regarded as an important measure in gender equality and has also improved father-child relationships.

In 2009, UK granted paternity leave for the first time. But the take-up of paternity leave has been poor in its first decade, because until the employer also pays paternity leave at a rate that compensates men for the loss of their generally higher salary, the prospect will not seem that attractive.

We also need to do better by mothers who would rather take more time off. They shouldn’t feel pressure to get back to work to avoid being penalized.

[Related: High-Performing Professional Women Want More Paid Leave and Greater Flexibility]

Offer flexibility in working.

As highlighted in my book, managing both work and home is a responsibility traditionally passed on to women. There is usually an unspoken expectation for them to flex their schedule and realign commitments more than their male partners.

Flexible work hours, work-from-home opportunities, and job sharing are options that organizations can evaluate to ensure they retain talented mothers during their child-rearing years. An employee physically working within an office doesn’t necessarily guarantee improved results or productivity. Organizations should additionally try to incorporate on-site childcare facilities wherever possible.

This might not be easy to implement, but many companies have successfully done so already. Moreover, studies indicate that employee performance is higher and absenteeism lower among employees using on-site versus offsite childcare.

Improve work-life balance for both men and women.

The increasing prevalence of long working hours has had a negative impact on women's employment. The imbalance in work-life balance policies between men and women reinforce gender stereotypes and differences between paid and unpaid work.

While research has shown that the gender pay gap is narrowing for young workers, it is widening among working mothers, as they are effectively suffering a pay penalty for taking time off or working fewer hours than men.

Technology that facilitates answering e-mails at all hours in the evening puts working moms at disadvantage, as they already bear the disproportionate burden of domestic responsibilities. Organizations need to stop valuing presentism and on-call availability if they wish to level the playing field for women with children.

[Related: What's Good For Women in the Workplace Is Good For Everyone]

Provision of free universal childcare.

One of the most significant hurdles that currently prevent women from reaching the top of their career is the lack of available childcare support. Companies should consider helping to pay for child and elder care.

This is necessary to benefit both women and the economy. In 2015, McKinsey estimated that global GDP would grow by $12 trillion were women able to engage in the paid labor force at the same rate as men. But they aren’t.

According to calculations by women’s budget group, investing 2% of GDP in the caring industries would generate up to 1.5 million jobs in the UK, compared to 750,000 for an equivalent investment in construction.

Address unconscious bias.

From recruitment to talent management, appraisal to compensation, management needs to revisit all policies and systems for their organization to check for overt and covert bias that are weighted against women and impact their progression chances significantly.

Staff members need training on conscious and unconscious bias, and every decision needs to be informed by a structured due diligence process. HR professionals should identify rising female talent throughout the organization and track their career paths and accomplishments.

What’s more, a company should implement steps to develop this female talent: They need access to informal networks, influential mentors, and stretch assignments. Tokenism worsens gender bias and fosters the resentful view that women on top got there undeservingly, and hence should be strongly avoided. Relegating women to certain industries further reinforces bias that there is work for which men are more naturally suited.

Corporate leaders need to hold their managers accountable for diversity decisions while discouraging any and all stereotypes that influence those decisions. Organizations can also pledge to participate in conducting an Effective Pay-Equity Audit and be transparent about the results. Soliciting feedback is a critical part of this development process so that management can identify and address any subtle filters.

[Related: Why I'm Sponsoring 100 Women of Color in Healthcare by 2030]


Hira Ali is an author, writer, speaker, and executive coach focused on women’s and ethnic leadership development, closing the gender gap, and breaking the glass ceiling. She is the Founder of Advancing Your Potential and International Women Empowerment Events and Co-Founder of Career Excel and The Grey Area. Contact her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook. You can buy her book here.

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