All of these posts will undoubtedly pledge allegiance to the cause of gender diversity and equality accompanied by this years IWD hashtag #embraceequity.
Equity is, of course, different to Equality. Equality suggests that everyone is at the same starting point and is treated in the same way. It seeks to promote fairness but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same level of support. Equity aims to give everyone what they need to be successful and recognises that achieving “equality of outcomes” may involve giving some groups more support than others to “level the playing field”.
The companies posting about International Women’s Day will vary greatly - from those who are champions in the E,D&I sphere and have positively influenced change through progressive leadership - to those who are simply engaging in marketing spin and paying lip service to the initiative.
Empty Gestures are not enough
Of course awareness days are important to inspire and bring visibility to the challenges women face but they need to be supported by action.
Every brand is keen to be doing something and that is commendable but thrusting a few senior females into the spotlight, coffee mornings, inspirational quotes, wearing pink… they are all meaningless if there are no fundamental changes beneath the surface.
Despite the introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting obligations for all companies with over 250 employees in the UK in 2017, the UK’s gender pay gap - that is what women are paid on average less than men across all roles - remains at 8.3 percent. The world is changing but not quickly enough. The fact that the gender pay gap increases significantly after the age of 40 shows that women are still penalised for having children and are often overlooked for promotion, sidelined from key projects or clients or not given the same opportunities when they return to work.
These practices not only perpetuate the gender pay gap but can also result in costly claims for discrimination and significant reputational risk for organisations. All business leaders should be committed to addressing the gender pay gap cause, not just to avoid these risks, but because it makes fundamental commercial sense. Business benefits include higher retention of female talent, reduced recruitment costs and improved employee engagement and productivity - which is turn drives profit. Being able to give a positive message on diversity is important for your business values and brand and is increasingly important to stakeholders and clients.
Beware of Name and Shame
But positive messages must be supported with data and metrics. The media will also be very interested in your organisation’s diversity data! Last year, a Twitter Bot ( a bot account which auto generates responses to certain triggers) retweeted each organisation’s gender pay gap in response to its posts about International Women’s Day. This information was taken from the publicly available government gender pay gap records. In some cases, grandiose pledges of commitment to E,D& I initiatives and celebration of women’s empowerment quickly backfired when they were accompanied by the words “In this company, women’s mean hourly pay is 47 percent lower than mens.” It was, of course, a very effective and powerful way of highlighting the hypocrisy that exists in some organisations.
Progression not perfection
If you are a smaller organisation, you may have good intentions but not know where to start or recognise that you have a lot of work to do. Remember that E,D&I is about progression rather than perfection. Acknowledging where you are as a business and committing to tackling issues, even if those are gradual, will give a far more positive impression to your employees, your clients and your future talent pool than doing nothing at all.
So if you truly want to #embraceequity here are my top tips
- If you pledge commitment, make sure you can back it up with data
- Measure your gender pay gap - even if you are a smaller organisation with less than 250 employees, it would be wise to get ahead of the curve. The sooner you analyse where you are the quicker you can address any issues.
- Engage in surveys and focus groups to communicate with your female staff and ensure you are fully aware of any challenges they face
- Consider mentoring schemes and maternity returner coaching for employees.
- Train and educate your leaders and managers on allyship, inclusive leadership and unconscious bias.
- Conduct a policy review and equality audit
- Ensure your leadership team is committed to the cause and action comes from the top down and does not solely rest with HR.