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Gender and pay equality in PR

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In 2017 we simply shouldn’t need to discuss the gender pay gap.

Two years ago, in 2015 McKinsey proved the economic case for diversity by showing that companies with more women at the top, outperform others by 15%. Other research conducted by EY with the Peterson Institute for International Economics recently found that companies with at least 30% female leaders can add as much as 6% to their net margins.

Despite a strong economic case for gender diversity, one of the questions I am most frequently asked by senior leaders working within our industry is, “Why does the gender pay gap exist?” My answer is almost always, “It’s complicated.”

For the first time, the PR & Pay Equality research conducted by Women in PR with the CIPR, reveals the eight key reasons for the gender pay gap in PR and provides a useful playbook for employers and the wider industry to adopt.

When I first received the research findings and read the anonymised, verbatim comments from the women who took part in the study, I was genuinely shocked, but also saddened.

The reasons for the gender pay gap are complex and deep-seated, however, three themes emerge from the eight findings – a culture of fear, stigma and intimidation; a sense of bias towards women and senior women in the workplace; and a feeling by women that they lack the skills to effectively manage these two issues.
What’s shocking about the findings of the study is that these are the attitudes and perceptions of some of the industry’s most senior, influential and respected female leaders working in agency today. This is what they have quietly been experiencing and thinking, as they have worked their way up to director, managing director, partner or CEO. Any one of them could be your boss, your direct report, your colleague or your friend.
This important research needs to lead to a positive outcome and for all of us to #BeBoldForChange. For me there are two key calls to action, the first is for employers and the industry as a whole to address this issue using the seven point action plan proposed to tackle gender pay bias.

A good starting point is to applaud those PR agencies who are already leading on this issue, such as Dynamo PR who were the first agency in the UK to publish their gender pay figures. The PR industry can also learn from other professional services firms who are leading the way on closing the gender pay gap. For example, EY has put this issue at the heart of their Vision 2020 business strategy and already publish their gender pay figures.

Looking to the future, the second significant opportunity lies with millennials, who emerge as the generation most likely to change the status quo. The research reveals, and my own career experience confirms, that they are braver and more demanding when it comes to their salary expectations and negotiations.
Millennials also expect and demand greater transparency from their employers on this issue than previous generations. Many are already reaching mid and senior-management roles in our industry. It will not be long before an organisation’s transparency and reputation in relation to gender pay reporting becomes an important factor when selecting an employer. Talent will vote with its feet and those employers who use this as an opportunity to differentiate themselves and create competitive advantage will not only win in terms of attracting the best talent, but will also see the economic case for diversity flow through to the bottom line.