Midnight on 4th April marked the deadline when all UK companies with over 250 employees were required to publish their gender pay statistics. Unsurprisingly, the topic has dominated headlines recently, and companies have had to consider how and when to disclose the information, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
As high-profile cases such as the resignation of the BBC’s China editor have shown, gender pay issues have the potential to seriously impact a company’s reputation. So what have we learned based on the process so far, and what should be front of mind as firms confront this new, transparent reality?
1. Don’t lie
Several firms have already been questioned for their submission of figures which are misleading, inaccurate, or completely impossible. Some have subsequently printed revised versions, but this is going to do nothing to improve the public’s already shaky trust in big business.
2. Show how much this matters to your business
Although it’s not a specific requirement, the best gender pay reports have included a foreword which provides context and gives more insight into a company’s approach to gender parity.
Whilst a representative from the HR department may seem like the natural choice to provide this, putting forward a C-suite level spokesperson will lend far more weight and show that this is an issue which is being taken seriously at every level of the business. If this spokesperson is a senior woman, so much the better.
3. There’s no good time for bad news
Much debate has centred around the optimal time for publishing figures – go early and risk increased media attention, or wait until the last minute and increase the potential for criticism of trying to bury bad news?
In short, there’s no right answer. What has been clear is that this has been a topic of interest for media since the policy was introduced, and is unlikely to disappear any time soon. Companies should instead make sure they’re focused on getting their story right rather than worrying about when they share it.
4. Demonstrate a commitment to change
There’s no avoiding the reality that the majority of companies will report some form of gender pay gap – the average in the UK sits around 18%. Whilst this isn’t ideal, reporting a gap doesn’t have to result in automatic condemnation, especially if companies can show they are taking positive steps to address it.
The story is no longer about the fact that a pay gap exists. Media (and the public) will now be looking for evidence that corporates are committed to addressing gender imbalance. Setting clear objectives for improvement offers an opportunity to get on the front foot and prove that this is an issue which is being taken seriously.
Publishing gender pay statistics was just the first hurdle – the real work begins now. In a year’s time media coverage of the next round of reporting will focus on holding companies an sectors to the promises which they’ve made. As ever, actions speak louder than words and businesses will not be able to talk themselves out of something they’ve acted their way into.
Picture credit to Augustin Polanco. Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/nitsuga/37334868826
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