How we can close the gender pay gap

According to research by specialist accountancy and financial recruiter, Marks Sattin, women working in accountancy earn £17,000 less per year than their male colleagues.

The gender pay gap isn’t unique to the finance sector, with working women in the UK earning 18 percent less than men on average. To bring more attention to this issue, the government has introduced legislation that will require businesses with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap data by 4 April 2018.

The new legislation will highlight pay inequality at large firms, including those in accounting and financial services. But smaller companies can also do their part to encourage gender equality in the profession. We spoke to the founder of an all-female accountancy firm to hear how businesses can recruit and promote female talent, and how women in accountancy can support each other.

Knowledge is power

There is no single cause for the gender pay gap, but there are several issues that distort the differences between male and female pay. Attitudes around motherhood, occupational segregation and straightforward discrimination all contribute to gender-based inequality. Campaigners hope that the data generated by the new legislation will help raise awareness and ensure more support for female employees.

“Transparency around who is being paid what really brings home to employees what the situation is in their workplace,” says Andrew Bazeley, policy and insight manager at feminist campaign group The Fawcett Society. “It also gives them the tools to push their employers to change.”

With larger firms now publishing their gender payment gap, the accountancy sector as a whole can start to formulate an action plan. A 2015 report by female leadership institute Catalyst found that Fortune 500 companies with a high representation of women on their boards achieved a 53% higher return on equity, 42% higher return on sales, and 66% higher return on capital. But to benefit from the skills women bring to the table, accountancy firms need to take active steps to recruit female staff.

Support is the key to change

Some accountancy firms design their entire business model around supporting and promoting female talent. When Georgi Rollings sensed that having children might have a negative impact on her own career progression, she decided to start her own business: Starfish Accounting.

“I’d seen other people go part-time and their career stalled as a result,” Rollings says. “I absolutely didn’t want that to happen to me. I’d done pretty well up to that point and I didn’t want to be viewed as less serious about my career because I wasn’t able to spend quite as many hours in the office.”

Maternity is a major cause of the gender pay gap because it often stalls female career progression. A 2016 study by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission estimates that 54,000 British women are pushed out of work each year after having children. Motivated by her own experiences as a working mother, Rollings is committed to offering flexibility to her employees, meaning she is often able to attract and retain talent where more traditional firms fail.

“My previous employer invested heavily in my professional development, but ended up losing me,” she says. “I left because I knew that they weren’t going to be able to provide that ongoing support after I’d had children. I think it’s a shame that some larger firms can’t see the talent that they’re missing out on.”

Recruiting female talent

A change in recruitment strategy is the key to attracting and maintaining female talent and ensuring that the financial sector offers equal opportunities to men and women alike. Flexible working can help mothers to juggle multiple responsibilities and continue to make their way up the career ladder. Flexible working is a legal right in the UK, but Rollings thinks misconceptions are still holding women back.

“Things are certainly a lot more equal than they were,” she says. “But there’s still a real misconception that people need to be in the office at all times in order to do a good job. I disagree with that. If you have a more flexible working arrangement you can still do a good job. It’s a shame that more employers don’t see that.”

Bazeley agrees that better awareness of flexible working rights would improve female recruitment and retainment, and advocates the advertisement of new jobs as flexible by default. He points out that additional legal protections are needed to ensure women aren’t unjustly disadvantaged if they decide to start a family.

“We need to tackle maternity discrimination,” he says. “The government needs to revert the decision to introduce fees, which act as a barrier to women pursuing maternity discrimination cases, and give them a longer window within which to pursue those cases.”

PwC’s Women in Work Index estimates that it will take almost a century to fully close the gender payment gap worldwide if progress continues at this rate. Even though there’s still a long way to go, the UK is improving and currently ranks thirteenth on PwC’s list of countries with the smallest gender pay gaps. With more information about the gender pay gap now becoming available, employees and businesses can start working together to close it for good.

Five ways you can take action:

  1. Prepare for reporting. Make sure you’re ready to report your gender pay gap if your business meets the criteria, and to advise your clients accordingly if needs be.
  2. Talk about it. The main goal of the new legislation is to create greater transparency and promote debate, so don’t be afraid to have difficult discussions in your office.
  3. Connect to your peers. As a group it’s easier to make a difference than when you’re on your own. Use networking, meet like-minded people and stand up for your rights together.
  4. Don’t hold back. Don’t be afraid to ask for that pay rise or promotion if you feel you deserve it. Others will speak up for themselves too, so don’t get left behind.
  5. This is just the starting point. Every business is different, so think about what else you can do to promote gender equality in your workplace and in your company’s recruitment practices. The more outside-the-box it is, the better!

Coco d'Hont is a staff writer at Flibl and reports on technology, finance and workplace wellbeing. Follow her on Twitter @cococatani.

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