“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”
Nelson Mandela

I have been part of the conversation on gender and equal pay for most of my adult life. Working in the field of international reward and remuneration, primarily for large blue-chip organisations, it would have been very challenging not to, yet my reason for being in the conversation was not because it was my specialism and field. It was because I come from a very traditional, patriarchal culture, where as a female, I was told in no uncertain terms I was inferior, and so of course as an ardent feminist and non-conformist, I made damn sure this would not be my reality.

And it wasn’t just that it impacted me. It impacted all the girls and women around me and try as I might, I could not swallow the inequality and injustice I was seeing.

Therefore, I made sure I was a part of the conversation, no matter what my role, as I firmly believe that when we continue to have fundamental issues such as gender inequality and significant equal pay issues (along with so many more) within a society in a new millennium, then we must acknowledge and accept that no one is winning, even those who think they are.

I know many organisations ‘think’ they are winning, and I applaud the ones that know they are not, and are doing whatever they can to make sure win-win is a true reflection of what they are trying to create, for everyone concerned. In my experience unfortunately, these organisations are few and far between. We continue to live in a very, very outdated way of being and doing, not only in a work environment, but in many other aspects of life, and unless we begin to think radically about altering this, the situation is going to continue going from bad to worse.

For example, even after everything we have been through, especially the man-made disasters such as the global financial crisis, we continue to perpetuate the policies and practices that took us there in the first place. Managers across the world in most types of organisations continue to be rewarded for making decisions that consistently and supposedly better the bottom line, because well, what they keep telling us, if the bottom line isn’t healthy, then no one is going to win.

Throughout my twenty years of international reward, I have had conversation after conversation with executives, senior leaders and managers following analysis and recommendations my team and I have put together on detailed data, making suggestions as to how we can start minimising the pay gap, and whilst I get the obligatory nods, unless the action is monitored, reviewed and ‘rewarded’, very quickly it becomes apparent that no real change is going to occur.

This is because it’s not seen as a priority, as compared to other priorities. It’s too expensive, there isn’t the manpower, it’s not fair (I’ve heard that one more times that I can remember) and the short term ‘pain’ is far too problematic to go through for the medium, long and long-long term. Key performance indicators in most organisations around people rarely go beyond managing salary cost and engagement scores. Therefore, of course, ‘if it’s not specifically in my KPI like managing my recruitment and people salary cost, it’s not going to impact my bonus. I’m getting the message loud and clear. It’s not important.’

The financial bottom line is important, of course it is. I studied accountancy and economics. I work in reward. I understand the essential nature of commerce. I get it. What frustrates me though more than anything is that, even now, in our supposed highly educated state, we are still not seeing the bigger picture, despite the multitude of research coming out of our ears showing how if women were treated and paid fairly for their efforts, globally, productivity would far outweigh the costs such action would require.

But no, we don’t choose to do what we know is right and fair, because it would impact us significantly negatively in the short term and we don’t really give a damn about the long term, and who gives a hoot about the long-long term? We won’t be around. Those in the long-long term can take care of themselves. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, didn’t you know? (Sorry doggies. I think you probably have better morals than us!)

Our culture perpetuates and rewards behaviour that is all about financial profit in the short term for a tiny minority, not people and profit for the medium, long and long-long term for all. Which is why even when we try and have a sane conversation around ending the pay gap, ensuring equal pay for equal work as one of the bases of justice and equality in our supposed democratic society, we have individuals like Alan Sugar (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/04/women-should-push-for-higher-pay-says-alan-sugar) making immature remarks about how women should just ask for more money and go elsewhere if they don’t get it. (Or maybe demand would be a better word, based on how he shows up!)

These are the people we hail as our ‘heroes’. When our supposed captains of industry show they don’t truly understand the issue, and don’t believe in pay transparency (oh, I wonder why?) how can we find a way of moving forward? In the end, in spite of all of this, we have to. Or maybe because of it.

No doubt I’ll get bashed for slagging off Alan Sugar. I don’t care. He has his views and I have mine. At least he didn’t pay any lip service to the subject and said what he really thinks.

I also know others might say I’m a hypocrite for disagreeing with him, given what I do, which is help women ask for what they want to earn and receive in their careers. I don’t disagree with his notion of asking; what I wholeheartedly disagree with his cluelessness about the context of the entire asking conversation and his immaturity in not understanding that if it was this bloody simple, would we have an issue with women asking for what they want in the first place?

No, we wouldn’t. The truth is there are multitudes of implications for women who do ask, for those that don’t, for those that do and don’t receive and those that do and do receive. The asking conversation is a loaded conversation, and this is not even taking into account all the other challenges that women face in the workplace, which spill over into the rest of their lives.

This is why I do what I do. To help women believe and know, they deserve what they are asking for and I will do my utmost to help them get what they want, because I know, the more women I help, the more they will pass it on (because they do). Hopefully by tackling this huge challenge from this angle, maybe we can get some momentum going. This is my dream, my purpose, my reason for being.

This is why my blood was boiling today and I sat down and wrote this. It’s because when someone like Alan Sugar, an influencer and an icon makes comments that shows he doesn’t ‘get’ what it’s like for women to ask, he trivialises and negates the experience of women, he insidiously puts the blame on them (it’s they’re fault. They’re not asking in the right way, they’re not demanding and when they don’t get it, they’re not leaving) and the organisations get away scot free. Again.

I also work with organisations who are doing their utmost to implement practices which will eliminate this inequality by creating people, reward and operational strategies, plans and practices that go from start to finish to make this happen. Practices that ensure managers are making conscious decisions around all aspects of people activity, from the moment they step in the door to the moment they might choose to leave. Decisions, which translate to outcomes, to ensure these issues don’t occur again, and if they do, questions are expected to be asked. KPI plans that don’t just ask managers to manage people salary cost, but ensure fair and equitable decisions around managing salary costs. And so on.

Gender pay disparity and equal pay issues are institutionalised discriminatory practices, entrenched in previously illegal practices that were in place, because we as a society didn’t see women as equal with men, and which we still have to root out and eradicate from all working life. Like all inequality issues, it is a worthy issue to stand up and fight for.

Which is why I will keep on. For I have no intention of waiting for however many years they say will need to pass before we have gender pay parity. I choose it now. Because gender pay parity is not just for women, it’s for all of us, and as the studies have shown, life is better for all of us when we get rid of inequality for any of us.

“Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities?”
Pope Francis

Here’s to next time,

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