With J Walter Thompson having created the #FThepaygap campaign to promote equal pay, few can have failed to have spotted the irony of it also having the biggest median pay gap within WPP – a shocking 45% in favour of men. Wags might suggest that rather than a call to action, perhaps it was a reflection of the agency’s attitude to it.
In fairness, rebalancing any organisation’s workforce is a lengthy and complicated process. But that doesn’t mean that they also need to not do it. Aside from the obvious reasons of fairness, the business benefits are manifest – as well as clients demanding it, the work we produce is better and more representative of the population we serve.
I’m sure that JWT isn’t alone in having this issue. At the company where I work there was a stage when we had no senior women on the global leadership team or board and the founders had to instigate a proactive search to address this gender imbalance. All women look for role models and mentors and if there aren’t women on the board you’re going to struggle to retain any women.
Attracting female talent isn’t a problem. However retaining it often is as people’s lives change, particularly for those women who choose to have children – and this can make the workplace an intimidating or impossible place to be. Moreover, women returning to the workplace after starting a family may have lost some of their support network – and perhaps confidence – along the way. Flexible working policies are an obvious solution to this. But a further step to acknowledge that parenting is a shared responsibility rather than just that of the mother is equal paid parental leave.
So-called 50:50 shortlists are important to counter the natural drop-off due to family commitments, for example, that impact on women candidates at certain points in their working lives. A 50:50 shortlist doesn’t diminish the quality of candidates, but it does acknowledge that the playing field is not always level. There are outstanding women out there at all stages in their career, irrespective of whether they have children, so we should work harder to find them.
For many under-represented groups, leadership training is key. This might not just be gender-specific but we identify people and coach them about their goals and teach them about the business. That way the next generation of company leaders will be from a broader background still.
One area where women are more reticent than men is in negotiating pay rises. Regular salary reviews are part of the solution and test conversations, where women are encouraged to ask for what they deserve, improves confidence and self-worth.
While JWT’s management will have found the gender pay gap report uncomfortable reading, it’s important that all organisations publish the data on them, even if you don’t have to. It matters on multiple levels – it matters to the industry, as it needs to change, and is important within the business itself. I look forward to other agencies across the design, product, tech and advertising industries publishing their gender pay gap data and starting a conversation that urgently needs addressing. Then maybe the pay gap will be well and truly F’d.
Nicki Sprinz is the managing director at UsTwo London