Women are happier and more enthusiastic at work, despite being paid less

Deborah Frost discusses the benefits of closing the gender pay gap.

Reading time: 4 minutes.

More than 10,000 businesses filed gender pay gap data this year, in what is becoming one of the most hotly spoken about topics within the sector. Since the law changed in 2017 making it a legal requirement, the issue of gender pay has been making national headlines.

This increase in conversation and awareness has prompted progress at several large organisations such as Greggs, H&M and Mitchells & Butlers. However, disappointingly this year many organisations have seen their gender pay gap stall or increase.

Short term pain with long term reward

There is no quick fix. Positive initiatives, such as increasing the intake of women at entry-level are helping but in the short-term will cause a great disparity.

A more sustainable solution may be to look at your existing talent pool and consider changing internal policies and practices that make it harder for female employees to progress and ways to entice them back in the workplace after having children though mentoring and flexible working.

Closing the gender pay gap and the gender happiness gap requires businesses to ask themselves some difficult questions, and a willingness to act if they discover less-than-satisfactory responses.

Short-term fluctuations in gender pay gap data through new initiatives are forgivable, so long as organisations are also implementing evidence-based initiatives to support a targeted plan and drive meaningful improvements. 

But, these have to be more than just PR stunts but genuinely thoughtful solutions that will shape a dynamic and equal workforce across all levels.

This needs to start with maternity. Undoubtedly one of the key contributing factors to the under-representation of women in leadership is taking a career break to start a family. Taking time off to have a child should not preclude mothers from having a successful career, but this is not often the case and is likely a key contributor to the gender pay gap.

The industry is taking great strides towards gender equality in the workplace, but the fact remains that women are still overwhelmingly likely to act as primary caregivers, while men continue as the ‘breadwinner’.

Earlier this month, Diageo UK announced that it would offer men and women an equal 52 weeks parental leave with the first 26-weeks fully paid. Initiatives like this will go a long way in creating a more level playing field and more businesses should consider adopting an approach if they’re genuinely interested in equality.

Frank conversations and more recognition needed

Regardless, what is clear is that UK businesses still have a long way to go and according to the ONS, the gender pay gap in the UK in 2018 is 17.9%. Recent research echoes this frustrating state of affairs in the UK.

According to a recent survey of 1550 UK employees, more money and more recognition are the most in-demand benefits amongst women. Interestingly, whilst money was voted the most important benefit by both men (60.9%) and women (63.3%), the numbers showed that women crave recognition more than men (39.8% of men vs. 47.1% of women).

This discrepancy may be the result of that men feel, to a greater extent than women, satisfied that they are recognised for their contribution at work. And, as we’ve seen in 2018’s gender pay gap data, men are also reaping the financial rewards too.

However, despite women being paid less, the research suggests women are happier and more enthusiastic at work compared to men, with just over a third of male employees saying they often feel happy at work.

This presents a huge problem that the UK workforce face and is something that British businesses need to do also do more to explore.

Closing the gap

Closing the gender pay gap and the gender happiness gap requires businesses to ask themselves some difficult questions, and a willingness to act if they discover less-than-satisfactory responses.

It’s not just something that should be looked at once a year but needs to be analysed and understood. Doing a ‘deep dive’ analysis, then communicating the complexity which sits behind your results, is vital for giving a full and fair picture of pay at your organisationcelebrate success where appropriate and explain without excuses.

Workplace policies should allow female employees flexibility and support to return to work after maternity and more should be done to promote fathers ‘sharing the load’ when it comes to children – thereby allowing more opportunities for women to stay in the workplace and providing both parents a better work-life balance.

To make progress companies will undoubtedly require changes to culture and strategy, but if businesses can make sure they’re communicating openly with their employees around both pay and happiness everyone will benefit.


About the author

Deborah Frost is CEO of Personal Group.


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