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A diversity of strengths

16th Apr 2019
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How much do you earn? Is that a personal question and perhaps none of my business; well now I’m going to ask you an even more personal question which is what do you personally bring to your organisation in return for which they pay you a wage.

It only started last year but already April is gender pay gap month; the time by which organisations with 250 or more employees have to publish their gender pay gap figures. Apart from raising awareness, it is probably too early to say whether the exercise has had the impact that was intended. Whilst the median pay gap has fallen slightly over the last year from 9.7% to 9.6%, the figures also revealed that 45% of organisations reported that their pay gap had actually increased in favour of men.

Now in order to understand the figures you have to dive beneath the figures, looking at the underlying social and cultural trends which could impact on employability and pay. A House of Commons briefing paper from November 2018 provides a useful analysis here including the fact that “There is little difference in median hourly pay for male and female full-time employees aged in their 20s and 30s, but a large gap emerges among full-time employees aged 40 and over.” This analysis was amplified by research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which found that the pay gap between men and women widens substantially following the birth of their first child.

What figures such as these show is that the gender pay gap isn’t simply a matter for organisations but also has societal implications. Not that that absolves organisations from playing their part in promoting equality of opportunity and reward for all. We may have gone a long way from a time in the 1980s when a colleague was told by her then employer that she would not be considered for promotion as she was married and therefore be bound to have children and leave at some stage in the near future. But whilst such overt bias has largely been eliminated we are still seeing evidence of unconscious bias within the workplace.

And this isn’t simply confined to questions of gender or even race. Even when we are talking about areas such as diversity of strengths, skill, or character traits, unconscious bias can act to the detriment of the entire organisation. When we talk about pay scales: when we talk about diversity and inclusion, we are not simply addressing equality of opportunity but also the way in which individuals are able to bring their skills and strengths to the benefit of their organisation.

Turning that around isn’t going to happen just because companies have to fill in a government form once a year. It takes leadership and it takes training; training to raise awareness of the dangers of unconscious bias and training which enables people to draw out and bring their own and others skills to the company table.

What do you bring to your organisation? Perhaps we should follow the example of a wise friend of mine who once said of assembling a team - ‘we want a similarity of spirit and a diversity of strengths - the opposite is a recipe for disaster.’

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