Equal positions with equal pay – pie in the sky or a realistic hope for PR?

23 Jun 2015 by Sarah Leembruggen.

Across the industry, we found in our survey that 28% of women in senior roles were participating on the board compared to 72% of men.

In an industry where females outnumber the males, it is staggering to see such a significant male representation on the board. While the number of women sitting on the board of PR consultancies is on the up, female participation remains particularly low in Financial PR, which begs the question, ‘Is the pipeline too weak as many women have left the industry?’

Could it be time to follow the example of countries such as Norway, Spain and France where there are mandatory quotas for female representation on boards?

Advocates of change insist that most effort should be directed at the middle management level, the point at which many women reach a plateau in their career. When we carried out a poll to ascertain if employees in PR and Corporate Communications felt that women had the same opportunities as men to reach board-level positions in the industry, 61% of the respondents said no.

There is extensive evidence that indicates that companies with more women on the board outperform companies with fewer or no women directors. In 2013, a Credit Suisse Research Institute study reported that net income growth over a period of six years averaged 14% for companies with women directors compared to 10% for those with no female board members.

The evidence is endless – increasing board diversity is a fundamental need not only in PR, but across all industries, both home and abroad. The stakes in accelerating board diversity are great, as are the challenges. Keys to building momentum include creating stronger cultures of inclusion in boardrooms, in C-suites and possibly most importantly, in leadership teams at every company level. While it’s hard to predict how the path will unfold, sustaining meaningful advances in diversity should remain high on the agenda in PR so that companies are performing at their most effective, proactive and aspirational.

Are top management happy with their earnings?

Here’s the interesting bit – our survey revealed that 59% of women in senior roles are satisfied with their salaries compared with 56% of men.

If women are not being paid as much as men for the same roles, why are a higher number of them satisfied with their pay cheques?

It may be worth noting that discussing pay amongst employees is frowned upon in many workplaces and in some, it’s a disciplinary offence, so women often don’t know they are getting paid less than men. One might wonder whether such a high percentage would say they were satisfied if they were all fully aware of how much their male counterparts were receiving.

A lack of transparency over pay structure means there are fewer complaints which may give employers a false sense of having a team who are satisfied with what they are earning – but it does nothing towards eliminating any discrepancies in male-female salaries. And so the problem remains.

However, in my experience, millennials are more open about talking about their earnings so there will be more transparency in due course.

Is there hope on the horizon?

New government legislation requires companies with over 250 employees to publish the salaries they pay to men and women. This will no doubt trigger a move to examine the figures and address any discrepancies.

While I believe that a significant part of the gap cannot be explained by any of the factors commonly understood to affect earnings and that there are other factors that are more difficult to identify and measure that contribute to the gap, one message has emerged – both cultural and structural changes are needed at higher career levels to modernise the industry and eliminate the significant disparity that exists in male and female earning power.

To do this, there are a number of obstacles and influences to tackle – these obstacles span individual sector choices, cultural issues, double standards when pay rises are requested, work-life balance priorities and childcare support. In addition, there are workplace influences which include flexibility, attitudes towards being at your desk, mentoring for women, and promotion rates. It’s a veritable minefield!

It is 45 years since the Equal Pay Act came into play. There is clearly still an issue to address, but with so many factors to take into account, closing the gap will undoubtedly take some time. At a recent CIPR round table discussion on this very topic, we talked about disclosure of gender pay gaps from employers. We could also look at disclosure of progress targets, female talent and mentoring initiatives and promoting work place flexibility – all of which would be a great start towards narrowing and ultimately closing the gap.

The Works specialises in placing high flyers in PR and corporate communications. We have a strong track record of placing with professional services and offer career-making advice. Do get in touch if you would like our support building your team.

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