Earlier this week, I attended a panel discussion hosted by the Royal Television Society, discussing the gender pay gap with reference to the media industry. The BBC was well represented on the panel but rather more bravely, in the light of its 24% gender pay gap, Channel 4 was well represented in the audience.
The Labour MP Harriet Harman QC arrived slightly late (because she’d been in the House of Commons debating the Syria air strikes) but she immediately made two brilliant and timely comments.
Prior to her arrival the other panelists had been offering their own insights as to how the gender pay gap had come about. They expounded the theories that women don’t ask for pay rises or that women take career breaks to have children.
Harman’s point of view was refreshing and one that resonates with my own thinking. She argued that we have dwelled long enough on explaining why the gender pay gap exists so should now concentrate on how we are going to eradicate it. Now is the time to see energies focused on getting rid of any gap, rather than justifying it.
After Harman had spoken, the floor was opened to questions. One of the first being: “What about other inequalities in the workplace?” to which Harriet sagely replied, “Ah, the ‘what-abouts’”. She went on to explain that these ‘what-abouts’ do so much damage to the overall fight for equality in all its forms because they imply a hierarchy of oppression.
Of course, there are a whole host of inequalities – whether that is discrimination on grounds of social class, disability, ethnicity or sexual orientation – but rather than seeing these as existing in isolation, we should recognise that talking about one will actually raise the profile of all. The focus must be on eradicating all inequality - rather than assuming addressing one is at the expense of another - and creating opportunity for all irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, disability or race.
So let’s not waste our time reiterating the reasons for the gender pay gap, but accept that it is there, and any group being rewarded more than another is unsustainable and we must focus our energies on eradicating all such gaps.
Ultimately, leaders are responsible for ensuring that all our employees are paid fairly and ethically - on a job rate not a person rate. Our own research ‘Gender Equality – Unlocking Leadership Potential’ has shown that it is the businesses that create a culture of equality of opportunity across the board that will reap the benefits of the diversity of talent they will attract.