At Redleaf’s recent breakfast seminar, ‘Managing Gender Pay Gap Communications’, Director Karen Wagg and CEO Emma Kane addressed the many issues associated with the upcoming gender pay gap deadline.
By the 4 April 2018, all UK employers with more than 250 staff will be legally required to report gender pay gap data.
The new legislation, introduced in 2017, is a wakeup call for management teams across the country.
All companies will have a gender pay gap - though some will be larger than others - so everyone’s in the same boat. “But this doesn’t mean there’s safety in numbers,” reminded Wagg. “Those that communicate their data effectively, internally and externally, will come out on top. Those that don’t will face the consequences.”
What could go wrong?
Anticipating a media furore, many companies may focus their energies on external communications. But this would be a mistake. Internal communications are as, if not more, important than external comms when it comes to communicating gender pay gap data.
Some senior management teams may believe their employees’ attitude to the gender pay gap is one of acceptance, based on a grudging understanding that things “are the way they are”.
This being the case, companies might focus on explaining their data to the press rather than employees – after all, they understand the industry, right?
Seeing gender pay gap figures in black and white will likely bring to the forefront questions about salaries and promotion that were previously laying dormant. “Management can expect to have some pretty tough conversations: employees keen to challenge perceived biases will now be armed with The Facts,” said Wagg.
Fail to explain gender pay gap data to employees and you risk confusion, distrust and anger. “It is entirely plausible that an outraged employee will take their anger to the press – offsetting external communication efforts,” Kane added.
Talent drain is also a risk. And remember, your best recruitment tool is your current employees – if they’re disgruntled, recruiting new staff will be difficult.
So, how to approach internal communications?
Gender pay gap vs equal pay
A good starting point would be to communicate the difference between “the gender pay gap” and “equal pay”. The latter refers to differences between men’s and women’s average earnings across an organisation or the labour market, whereas equal pay refers to women and men being paid the same for the same work.
Understandably, issues surrounding equal pay are highly contentious so it’s important to make clear the distinction between this and the gender pay gap.
Make the first step
“It is crucial to communicate your gender pay gap figures to employees proactively before the media does that for you,” recommended Kane. “HR departments should be ready to explain existing pay trends and let people know what is being done at senior management level to address the issue”.
Highlight the key figures from your report and explain the reasons behind persisting differences: a gender pay gap doesn’t necessarily indicate that a company doesn’t stick to equal opportunities practices.
A good vehicle for internal communications might be a video featuring the CEO, a seminar or infographics.
It’s important that senior management is visible during these communications so employees understand their leaders are engaged. So, if you’re sending round an email explaining your data, make sure it comes from an appropriate senior figurehead.
Show you’re taking action
In addition to explaining the figures, it is important to outline a plan to correct pay gap issues. Companies should set realistic and measurable targets. This will contribute to the management team’s credibility and instil a sense of security in employees.
Once the KPIs are established, HR teams must regularly update employees on progress to show that the plans are not just an exercise in PR.
Don’t put your head in the sand
“Whether or not your company views the upcoming gender pay gap report as a particular concern, the issue is not going away,” Wagg pointed out.
Debates about attitudes to gender and diversity within the workplace will only gather momentum and will increasingly become a priority for existing and potential employees.
Our advice is to take action now and avoid reputational risk and talent drain later. Prioritise internal communications; even if you already have initiatives in place to address gender pay gap issues, it’s important to make these plans known.