According to recent figures compiled by Eurostat, Ireland is one of the top performers in the EU when it comes to gender pay gaps. Its 16 per cent differential between men and lower-paid female colleagues of equal standing was the fifth-smallest in the EU. This position is slightly at odds with the recent PWC report which claims that the Irish gender pay gap has actually widened between 2012 and 2015.
However one wishes to interpret this, and other gender focused data, the fact remains that gender inequality in the workplace is a major issue. The benefits of equality are clear and quantifiable: Organisations should strive for equality not just because it is fair and the right thing to do, but because a more equal organisation will perform better, enhance its reputation, and attract and retain better employees. So, what steps can an organisation take to address the issue?
1. Explore flexibility and work life balance
Flexibility is not solely a female issue, and work life balance is not just about getting to the crèche before closing time. We need to recognise that it is not just our mothers who would benefit from agile working. Having said that, organisations that promote flexibility as part of a wider company culture will intrinsically see more females occupy key senior roles, as the need to be ‘in the office’ while balancing other commitments is reduced. Home working, compressed hours or reduced working weeks are all initiatives that enable employees to manage their work and life balances more effectively.
2. Ditch the Positive Discrimination policies
Positive Discrimination does little else but eradicate the culture of meritocracy and perpetuate the myth that women aren’t as good as men. No matter how sophisticated the policy, the practice invariably ends up with women appointed to key roles having to constantly challenge the perception that they aren’t as good as their male counterparts. In any case, most great women (and men for that matter) I know, would be horrified at getting a job based on gender rather than because they were the best person for the job.
3. Challenge unconscious bias
We’re all great at making assumptions about our female employee’s/ interviewee’s personal situations and the ensuing impact on their career choices. These assumptions aren’t ours to make. Unconscious bias isn’t always wrong, but we need to be aware that it is bias based on our opinion and experience and should be challenged rather than assumed as fact.
And finally, and often forgotten…
4. Talk to employees
Good intentions are admirable and welcome, but engaging with those impacted is equally as important. I know so many positive initiatives that have fallen flat through poor communication or by targeting the wrong audience. By talking to its people, both female and male, an Organisation can appreciate what makes them tick and what initiatives would elicit the most positive responses.
Bono, Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year 2016, asked his wife Ali what he should say on accepting his award. She told him: ‘Don’t look down at me. But don’t look up at me either. Look across to me. I’m here.’
We’re all here. Happy International Women’s Day