Balance Is Better: How Small Companies Can Close Their Gender Pay Gap

Despite an increased discourse around women’s rights, our world is off-kilter. The theme for 2019’s International Women’s Day is ‘Balance for Better’ and it will highlight the benefits of a society that encourages balance and diversity: from its boardrooms to its sports teams, its media and its governments.

The gender pay gap is a totemic indicator of our unbalanced culture. In the UK it is around 20% across sectors, with the World Economic Forum predicting it will take 217 years to close the global gender pay gap. Dr Zara Nanu is the CEO of Gapsquare, a tech company that analyses companies’ gender pay gaps, then offers pragmatic steps to fix them. Since forming Gapsquare in 2015 she’s analysed over 270,000 employees’ salaries and worked with the likes of Vodafone, Condé Nast and Greater London Authority. We called her to discuss how small companies can take an axe to their gender pay gap. (Or, better still, stop one developing in the first place).

Hey Zara. Why are small companies so important in the battle against the gender pay gap?

Smaller companies are in a unique position because they can set the tone. Larger companies take years and years to make a change. Small companies can change things quickly and I think the success in eliminating inequality in work will come from SMEs. They’re smaller, more agile and have real opportunities to make changes. It’s about developing strategies that create inclusivity and diversity, about being more aware and transparent.

What are the benefits of making all your salaries transparent?

News travels fast about salaries, especially for small companies. People looking for jobs are increasingly checking out Glassdoor to see how much companies are paying. It’s very easy to find out how much others are being paid.

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A good move would be to stop specifying ranges in salary. So a company might be advertising for a management role and say that the salary will be “between twenty-five thousand pounds and thirty thousand pounds, depending on experience”. But what normally happens is you get more men at the top end pushing it up, and more women at the bottom end, accepting the lower amount.

Should we stop asking people about their previous salary? Nine American states have now banned this practice.

Yes, this is an easy move. When you ask someone their salary, you’re more likely to offer them something along similar lines, but with a small increase. There’s a higher chance of this negatively affecting women because they historically have lower pay.

The issue of childcare is central to many people’s ideas around pay. What about offering shared parental leave, like Sweden?

This would make a huge difference – in Sweden, the uptake for parental leave is high for both parents. But it’s taken them 30 years to get there because it takes a cultural change. It’s relatively easy to alter company policy – you know, change the document and say everyone is entitled to parental leave. But in practice, what we’ve heard, is that men asking for this leave can have their ambition being questioned. So it’s about changing the way we view parental leave and our attitudes towards it.

What about subsidised childcare?

Absolutely. Subsidised childcare seems like a big ask because we’re thinking like a business owner and it’s an additional cost. But if you look at the increased financial return of that person, it will outweigh the cost. Superficially it looks too costly, but it makes financial business sense.

How can we attract more women at the point of entry?

A lot of jobs – say something in construction – are perceived to be suitable for certain types of characteristics. Perhaps ones we historically associate with males. It’s about rethinking how we hire people and the processes within that. We recommend that hiring happens without knowing names, ethnic background, or even the university they attended. These can all influence decision-making.

What would you suggest for a company that’s getting a high percentage of men applying for a role?

There’s a free app called Gender Decoder. You run your new role through it and it will tell you if it has a male-male-dominated language or a female-dominated language. You can then change to make sure it’s neutral, or if you wanted to make it more orientated towards women, you can do that. It’s free. That’s the easiest thing for small companies.

If you want to ensure you’re tracking your gender pay gap from the start, Gapsquare have free online tools for small companies.

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And how can companies ensure there are more women progressing into the more senior roles?

Research is showing that if you have a shortlist of four for a role, it’s not enough to just interview one woman. You need a 50/50 shortlist.

Although these changes are obviously positive from a societal point of view, some owners might find them hard to comprehend. What are the business benefits?

There’s a lot of research that says people who work flexibly and fewer hours tend to be more productive. People who work in a transparent environment tend to be more productive. And people who work in more diverse groups usually generate more return for the company.

And what can individuals do? A freelancer, for instance?

It’s about being aware of the importance of these issues. If you want to grow your business and eventually support a team and their work, then you need to be aware of diversity and inclusivity from day one. Because it gets to a point where culture becomes entrenched in an organisation. It’s then much harder to change.

We agree! Thanks, Zara.

Check out Gapsquare here

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