“I AM Woman. Hear Me Roar!”
Helen Reddy

It was about ten years ago I noticed, that in my position as Head of Reward for various organisations, it was men who would come and talk to me about bettering their chances for pay rises, promotions and professional opportunities. They wanted to know how it really worked; whether everything happened by the book, or whether there were ways in which they could act and ‘speed’ their journey up to what they chose. It was my role to provide them with an understanding of the organisations policies and coach them in ways they could be better prepared for the kinds of conversations they could and would have.

This was not a part of my role I had anticipated, yet I enjoyed the conversations enormously and it was only a chance comment by a friend who’d come asking for my help said to me, ‘I’d love for my wife to come and talk to you. Unfortunately, she doesn’t work for this organisation’, to which I replied, it didn’t matter, I’d be more than happy to have a coffee with her if she so wished.

That coffee conversation never materialised, yet what it did do, was send me on a mission to talk to all the women I knew about whether they would have the kind of conversations I was having with their respective heads of reward, or even simply with me. Pretty much every woman I spoke to gave me the same answer.

‘No’, was the answer. And the reason? I worked for the organisation. Why on earth would I coach and advise them on asking for more money? Surely that wouldn’t be considered good for the company?

I quickly dissuaded them of that notion. Helping people better understand how they could get ahead and get what they wanted and at the same time help the organisation get what it wanted was what I lived for, and I was able to provide examples where in the past through the kinds of conversations I’d been having, both parties won.

Some of the women weren’t surprised. They attributed that ‘go and get it’ attitude inherently with the masculine go getting type we very often see in the corporate world, but didn’t think it was appropriate for them. Many were surprised, but immediately said they didn’t feel this was the right approach for them. After all, it was more than likely they were being paid fairly and the organisation had policies and processes, and they worked within them and felt in this ‘above board’ manner, everything was fine. They didn’t need to ask. They would be given what was due. Besides if they did ask, it might be seen as being greedy or aggressive and worst of all, what if they said no?

There was so much for me to unpack in all of that and as conversation after conversation, often with groups of women yielded similar answers, I made the decision to begin doing what I now do, which is help women find and have the confidence to ask for the pay rises, promotions and professional opportunities they chose in their careers.

But one thing struck me last week in light of the Carrie Gracie debacle. The number one reason women gave me for not asking about pay is they believed they were being paid fairly. This usually left me aghast. In Australia, where I was at the time, gender pay was already a hot topic and as reporting around the gender pay gap was occurring by many organisations, I would advise women in my capacity as a reward professional, that if their organisation had a pay gap, whilst there are many contributing factors to the pay gap, it was more than likely they were being impacted somehow by the pay gap. It was a logical assumption to make, and while it’s very difficult to know how your pay stacks up against their colleagues, unless you have access to their data, at a rational level, you could still make that leap. Until you know otherwise. Which is where research comes in. But more on that later.

Pay in organisations is often a very non-transparent matter, irrespective how transparent a company claims it is, if detailed data is not being provided. Pay strategies and policies whilst in their essence may aim to be as transparent as possible (and many don’t), once set, are then implemented across an organisation. The people making the decisions are often line managers who only have visibility for their own pay budgets and people and so, they make the best decisions they can, based on how they are performance managed and rewarded themselves.

What I mean by that is if I am rewarded on managing my budgets in a fiscally prudent way and there are no questions being asked from a broader perspective of why I pay one person this and another in this way, even if they may be doing same or similar work, or why I promoted this person over that one, or why there appears to be a theme of women receiving higher performance ratings, yet lower pay rises and bonuses? Or even broader questions as to why are there so fewer women being considered for promotions or professional opportunities? Or why are there so many women in the lower level roles as compared to the middle management or senior leadership positions?

If I, as a leader am not being held to this higher level of people management and leadership (and many organisations have this in place, yet if our real-life experiences aren’t showing this occurring) then it is safe to assume that strategies and policies exist, yet the organisation’s culture is not permitting them to actually be implemented. The status quo is alive and well and when questioned, often turns on the one doing the questioning.

Ranks close. Labels of ‘trouble maker, not a team player, bitchy, aggressive, greedy’ all are whispered in the corridors, rooms and elegant open plan offices, yet the outcome is very often clear. It’s hard to stay (and often leave due life considerations) in an organisation where not only is there lip service being paid to what is supposedly our values, the way we do things around here, but it becomes even more clear that the very premise on which we, as women relied on to give all we have to make the organisation a success – our belief that we are being paid fairly – is a cruel hoax.

Gender Pay Gap reporting has the power to give where possible, women information about the true state of how they are being paid. By understanding the pay gap in your organisation, you can make some logical assumptions about how you are being paid, and by researching on a regular basis, the pay of the role you do in your market, industry and sector, can figure out where your pay position is. Whilst you may never be able to get the actual data of your male colleagues as in the BBC scenario, there is enough information out there to show you, you must take an active part in your pay life, otherwise you may become one the one of the unfortunate ones the pay gap is undoubtedly impacting.

The current level of gender pay gap reporting and the consequences of unequal pay (two very different notions, however unequal pay can feed into the reason why the pay gap exists, along with many other factors) I believe are nowhere near where they need to be, to tackle this significantly unfair and unjust practice. It’s been over forty years since the Equal Pay Act was passed in the United Kingdom, and still we have huge instances of pay disparity.

Until we hold organisations accountable for having illegal (where true) and disparate pay practices, there won’t be the impetus to solve these issues. For too long this issue has been skirted in board rooms, at senior and middle management level, because it has not been seen as a priority. Why? There have been no implications for behaving this way, no significant consequences, no big fines, operating impacts etc so why on earth would an organisation spend time and money, and then likely more time and money on fixing something many don’t believe need fixing?

Why indeed? Maybe because not only is it the right thing to do, for so many reasons beyond simply humanity, but it is the only thing to do if we are to be the kind of society we claim we are?

I for one, watch with bated breath as gender pay gap reporting takes on further momentum, as women begin to realise that for far too long their trust has most likely been betrayed and they start finding their voice and courage to ask the questions they must about their pay if this is ever to change.

Whilst the previous #MeToo campaign broke my heart and made it sing all at once, as women and men found the courage to speak their truth and show that until we stand together and push for change, nothing will change. I can only hope and pray that gender pay gap reporting can have the same kind of impact.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” 
Anaïs Nin

For those interested in learning more about how you can ask- you can find out one way how by clicking here and buying the book that shows you how! https://highvaluewoman.org/project/six-steps/

Here’s to next time,

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