The gender pay gap remains a hot topic. Since businesses started monitoring the disparity between male and female salaries, the difference has closed somewhat, although nowhere near as much as it should have. While it’s the significant difference between the average male and female earnings that makes headlines, what’s often missed is what this divide truly represents – the fact that women are less likely to hold senior level, high-paying positions than men – something that’s known as the opportunity gap.
As recruiters for senior level positions, it’s a topic we’re keen to truly understand. With a strong network of senior-level female professionals and female consultants, we wanted to create a forum where these individuals could come together to openly discuss their experiences of being a woman in a senior position. We wanted to spark conversation around the challenges they’ve faced, what they believe are the real issues for businesses in today’s climate, and to discuss what tactics organisations could implement to tackle the pay and opportunity gap.
To see what went on take a look at our video wrap up above, or to deep dive into the topics we covered throughout the evening, read on below.
The event started off with a compelling introduction by our guest speaker, Jo Varley, an Executive Director whose roles over last 25 years have all had a transformation objective. She explained that throughout her career she’s often felt disappointed at the lack of female presence in certain organisations, but that building resilience and a support group around you, of both men and women, is the key to turning this around.
“The only way for women to get a level playing field is by having honest conversations and by creating the right support network, some of which will involve a lot of men – some of the best support I’ve had has been from male bosses and colleagues.”
While it’s often easy to fall into the trap of seeing the issue as a tussle between men and women, what was clear from both Jo’s introduction and the ensuing break-out discussions was that aside from the gender debate, having a more diverse and inclusive environment, and building a culture that encourages people to share their views was key to creating a successful workplace for all employees.
“It’s great to be asked to the party, but actually it’s better to be asked to dance.”
Many of our attendees agreed that simply creating a ‘diverse’ workplace wasn’t enough, and from experience, it was those organisations that allowed individuals to voice their opinions, and feedback to the business on important issues that created the right mindset to breed positivity around equality.
Others felt that for a lot of businesses, it was as simple as having more open and honest conversations, “For me there’s diversity and inclusion but there’s also a basic human respect that’s needed. If someone has an opinion, you might not agree, but it can be helpful to hear it out and understand their point of view. Just having respect for one another, that’s what makes the world turn.”
Motherhood was a reoccurring subject amongst attendees, many admitted to having experienced negativity from both male and female colleagues after having children. “I came back from a very short maternity leave of around 5 months to be told that my job had changed and I was to move into a different role, there was no negotiation….a senior female colleague told me I had made my choice and what did I expect…it drove me out of the business”.
Others mentioned that they’d encountered hiring managers who presumed that a working mother would be somehow less dedicated to their role, “There’s a lot of unconscious bias towards new mothers in the workplace and when hiring for new roles – the best way to resolve unconscious bias is surely to make yourself and others aware and conscious of it so it can be stopped”.
Fortunately, many felt that things were changing in this respect, with more organisations making flexible working available to both mothers and fathers and more employers becoming aware of the nervousness around females returning to work.
On the subject of flexible working, most of our attendees had experienced resistance to it and noted this wasn’t gender specific in the slightest. There was a unanimous want for businesses to have a better understanding and tolerance for flexible working. For many, they felt there was a lack of trust between employees, peers and line managers when it came to flexible hours.
“For years I used to see myself as the problem, but I’ve come to accept that I’m not and the problem is actually how other people see me. They think that if I’m not working at this time or that time, then I can’t do my job. But that’s not true.”
The topic of flexible working also extended to a discussion about recruiters and prospective employees. One of our attendees noted how when looking for work, a recruitment company had turned her away when she’d asked for flexible hours and subsequently wasn’t approached by them again. “If recruitment agencies don’t feel comfortable enough with their clients to address this issue or to ask certain questions, then no clear answers are given, and change can’t happen.”
Our director, Minesh Jobanputra, was in complete agreement explaining that despite agile and flexible working becoming more commonplace, there are some clients – especially in the contract space – who are still not open to the idea. He felt it was down to companies not wanting to upset the balance between their permanent and contract employees and suggested that recruiters should have a big part to play in changing mindsets.
While there were a number of other topics discussed throughout the evening, what was great to see was the acknowledgement that the transformation sector and industries within it are recognising the issues mentioned and are trying to implement positive change. There are far more opportunities opening up to females in the workplace and it was inspiring to hear how many attendees agreed that as a woman if you join the right organisation, the diversity you bring to the table can really make a difference.
If you’re interested in learning more about our Women In Transformation events, or any of our other roundtable discussion groups, don’t hesitate to get in touch or by calling 0207 375 9500.
Events Women in Transformation From the Experts Industry Insight