It is fair to say the advertising market is slowly moving in the right direction when it comes to Diversity & Parity in the work place. It is equally fair to say that while many sectors within the Digital Industry appear to be better than other industry sectors in closing the gap, there is still a long way to go.

According to the Government Equalities Office the UK Gender Pay Gap is at its lowest level ever at 18.1% down from 19.2% in 2015 (Advertising at 17.1%, Technology at 15.2% compared to Insurance 21%, Retail 22.5%). This demonstrates a positive step forward in recent years, but how can it be that there is still a gap at all?

At Sphere, we are massive advocates of Diversity & Parity in the work place – we promote it internally and educate our clients around it externally. We work with many clients who champion diversity with their diversity programmes, social media presence, salary surveys and pay structures as well as many who don’t. We still get some businesses who uncomfortably tell us “we need a bit of a lad to make this role work” or “she’s had 12 months off for maternity leave, we need someone who can hit the ground running”, as if taking 12 months to be a mum prevents you from keeping your skills current.

Our soon to be published salary survey confirms that women with more than 4 years’ industry experience are being underpaid by between 4 – 8% compared to their male equivalent, across all sectors our survey covered. I am proud to work for a brand who remunerates its employees in relation to their “grade” and has 100% parity across their pay-structure.
What lessons can our industry learn from other countries that are leaps ahead of the UK – what are they doing differently?

It is clear to me that the government has an obligation, as do all employers to bring about a change. The government did introduce voluntary publication of pay parity figures, which had little impact.  By April 2017 employers with more than 250 employees must publish gender specific pay figures, which should have more of an impact. But what about all those SMEs with less than 250 workers?  Putting pressure on larger organisations to publish gender pay and bonus gaps will increase “social pressure” on these organisations to conform. Yet with no formal obligation for an employer to actually act to close the gap, is the government saying it agrees that pay disparity has no place in society, but that they’re not going to influence businesses to close the gap? Without effectively monitoring this gap, and not penalising those that have one, the government are not doing enough.   France as an example will fine business 1% of their total wage bill for non – compliance. That’s one way to make an organisation listen! In Finland, employers with more than 30 employers must publish pay parity figures, making Finnish businesses far more accountable than those 250+ sized companies in the UK. To me it’s no coincidence that Finland’s gender pay gap is lower than the UK’s at 12%.

Are we missing a trick in thinking the drive to reduce the gender pay gap starts with employers though? Can we trace it back to schooling and education? Many would say closing the gap starts here, especially given statistically, per the OECD, boys are 50% more likely than girls to fail in the basic areas of mathematics, reading and science. The reality, based on my experience at school was those who were the most boisterous had great leadership skills, and for someone like myself who lacked confidence at school, was too introverted and according to my school reports “would struggle to be heard in an office environment”. My ten years’ in recruitment alone tells me that this is not the case!

I take my hat off to organisations such as This Girl Can and Creative Equals, who are very active in promoting female talent, but it’s clear to me that these groups cannot do it alone. If we are to address the fact the gender pay gap in the UK is currently estimated to take 30 years to close, it needs to be a truly collaborative, collective effort between schools, government, employers and the individuals themselves.

Bex Hudson

Bex is a Principal Consultant at Sphere Digital Recruitment. Bex has recruited media and advertising professionals for over 12 years working with some of the world’s leading brands and agencies.

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