No to 170 years

Lucy O'Brien


The gender pay gap has attracted more mainstream media attention this year than ever before, boosted by high profile actors who have brought it to public attention. It is sometimes easy to forget that back in 2002, the six cast members of Friends won an unprecedented victory in calling for equal pay for all six actors – regardless of gender or experience. Together they stood, and divided they would have fallen. The solidarity they showed was instrumental in convincing network bosses to increase pay to fair levels. The greatest part about this achievement? It was about equal pay for equal work – and it was not about gender.

The situation in 2015, as found by a survey conducted by PR Week, is that there continues to be a discrepancy between male and female salaries in the PR industry, particularly for those with more than five years’ experience. They also found that the problem was getting worse, and that the gap was wider than it was a year before. Addressing this issue, which is a pervasive global problem that affects all industries and all women that work in them, needs a fundamental change from the inside out in how we talk about the issue and how we address it. Equal pay for equal work should not return again and again to gender. It is about equal pay, for equal work, regardless of sex.

Despite the Equal Pay Act being introduced in 1963, we still have a situation where women are paid less, on average 30 cents less per hour, when they are doing the same job as a man. The even bigger problem is that this problem is getting worse. WEF has just revised its estimate that the global gender pay gap will close within 118 years, announcing that progress in closing the gap has slowed, decelerated or been arrested in many nations around the world. It is now estimated by WEF that women globally will not be paid equally for the work they do for another 170 years. Awareness – and acknowledging that the problem exists is a great step forwards. But it will not correct itself unless more discussion is held and action is taken. We need to understand why the gap is widening. Disproportionately, of course, this widening of the gap affects the uneducated, the unskilled, those in developing nations and those subsisting on wages below the poverty line, the hardest.

While over 60% of the PR industry is made up of women, women on boards and at a senior level are under-represented. This problem is replicated across all industries. Talking about the issue helps. Sharp action was taken recently when Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts was put on indefinite leave after suggesting that the lack of senior women in the advertising industry was caused by a lack of ambition, and that women simply don’t want the top roles. It was made clear that the organization supports gender equality and that efforts to achieve it are driven from the top down.

Companies need to recognize the problem and put strategies in place to tackle it. They need to ensure the working environment is attractive not just to women but to any employee who has kids, male or female. Reframing the work environment so it is seen not as a ladder with one route to the top, but a ‘jungle gym’, as coined by Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In, helps as a way of seeing that there are multiple paths to achieving ambition. Female role models and mentors are vital in inspiring other women.

As communications professionals, of course we need to consider the impact of this within our own organizations, on our lives and those of our co-workers, and managers need to take steps to identify and correct any gender imbalance.

We also need to recognize this as a global problem that our own clients have a stake or an influence upon. When we talk to our clients about their approach to CSR, environmental impact and sustainability, we should also talk to them about what they are doing to address the gender pay gap and ensure equal pay. Until this year, that has not been a typical part of the discussion. It is far easier to talk to a client, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world, about steps they are taking to help the communities they operate within, and not about steps they might be taking to ensure a better gender balance in their workforce, or to deliver equal pay. There is a good reason why gender equality is listed as one of the 17 global sustainable development goals set out by the UN.

Our current default setting is to see good corporate citizenship mainly through th

e lens of environmental issues and sustainability. Equal pay should be part of these discussions as well. What could be more fundamental to being a good corporate citizen than ensuring fair and equal compensation for employees? While a female leader or spokesperson sets a great example, and can be helpful in inspiring others, it is critical not to give in to tokenism. One senior female leader – if they are sitting at a boardroom table with 10 men – is not cause for congratulation. It is only the beginning.