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Ending the Gender Pay Gap in a Generation

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Mary Whenman

Earlier this week, I found myself standing outside one of the Committee Rooms in the House of Commons waiting to be called in by the Chairman of The Debating Society to propose the motion, ‘This house agrees that “Requiring large firms to publish pay data will ‘end the gender pay gap in a generation’”. It was one of those moments when you ask, “How did I get here and what am I doing?”

My debating partner was Lisa Townsend, Head of Public Affairs at Octopus Investments. We were debating against Sarah Pinch, CIPR Past President and Stuart Bruce, CIPR Council Member.

image1When we first signed up to participate, Lisa and I had both mistakenly thought we were signing up for a panel debate. How very wrong. I’m a great believer in pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and opening a debate in front of a room full of strangers* in the House of Commons doesn’t get much more uncomfortable.

As I stood up to open the debate, I knew I had a good wing-man in Lisa as she’d stood to be a Tory MP in the last Election and compared the whole experience to ‘doing hustings in the Labour strong-hold Norwich South – when nobody clapped’.

We argued that there are six reasons why requiring large firms to publish pay data will ‘end the gender pay gap in a generation.’


  1. The threshold of 250+ employees is just the beginning

We believe legislation will increase over the next 20 years and the threshold will reduce and be applied to an increasing number of companies. We also believe many companies and industries will adopt a voluntary threshold and there is strong evidence for this in the PR industry. Last year’s PR Week, PRCA & Women in PR #prpaygap survey results showed a groundswell of support for voluntary reporting of gender pay discrepancies by agencies of all sizes, together with a pledge by 68% of agency heads to voluntarily adopt a lower limit than 250 people. 

  1. Nurturing the female pipeline and increasing the number of women on boards will help close the gender pay gap

The industry is operating a number of mentoring programmes, including the PR Week Mentoring scheme run in conjunction with Women in PR to prevent the drain of mid-career women from our industry. As these women become directors they will be in positions to positively affect change and to close the gender pay gap.

  1. Successful companies are already publishing their gender pay data

Well-respected organisations, including PwC, Deloitte and EY are publishing their gender pay gap data and using the facts to drive better business, close the gender pay gap and gain competitive advantage.

  1. The millennial factor

One factor which motivates millennials is transparency. They are also motivated by the gender pay gap and 70% of respondents who completed the #prpaygap survey were millennials. One respondent said, “Transparency is key to trust and knowing who is good and who isn’t will make choosing where to work a more transparent process.” As the war for talent rages in the PR industry, millennials will use gender pay data when assessing potential employers. Furthermore, millennials are growing up and those born in 1982 are already moving into senior positions. Soon they will be running UK plc and our major institutions. With their attitudes towards greater transparency, millennials will be instrumental in reducing the gender pay gap.

  1. The commercial imperative.

We can see a time when potential clients will ask agencies to include their gender pay data as part of a tender or RFP submission. If the Government Communications Service and major brands were to take this step, the commercial imperative to close the gender pay gap would bring about change.

  1. Managing our industry’s reputation.

Our industry needs to effect change and set the standard. Public relations cannot be serious about being guardians of reputation if we pay women less than men for the same work.

After hearing comments from the floor and giving our closing arguments, the chairman of the debate called for votes. We lost. But it didn’t matter. The experience was exciting and energising and we all left buzzing as we walked out into Parliament Square.

*apart from the friendly faces of the three As – Avril, Annette and Anastasia