After this week’s news that women are paid getting on for £500k less than men over the course of their career, it is easy to focus on that single element of inequality. Indeed, women and men at the same level with the same experience and responsibilities should be paid the same – that’s a given. From the female executives surveyed by the CMI to the scores of women in low paying jobs at Birmingham City Council currently fighting for equal pay, it seems women at all levels can find themselves in this position.
But in my view, the results of the CMI survey don’t just point to a systemic gender imbalance in salaries for senior roles, the shortfall has much wider implications and should make business leaders take a closer look at attitudes towards senior women within their organisations.
Over 140 studies show a link between women in senior positions and improved financial performance. In a review of Fortune 500 companies, 353 showed a positive connection between increased representation of women in top management teams and performance; total shareholder return rose by 34%. So whilst opinion about the value of enforced quotas for women on boards remains split - or as the MT poll showed this week, a majority against – if women help to deliver better performance, why are they not paid equally?
Could the answer be a conscious or unconscious bias against women? An underlying perception that women don’t have the depth of experience to justify equal pay? That they provide less value? Or is it that women lack the confidence of their male counterparts when negotiating pay?
We should ask: if women’s contribution improves overall performance, why aren’t businesses aligning salaries for men and women in the same role in order to incentivise women to remain in the workforce and continue to develop their careers?
To create real diversity of skills and innovation in the boardroom, business needs to encourage, develop and unlock the potential of high performing women. Show them what more they can still achieve. Yet despite many forward-thinking organisations putting programmes in place to improve gender diversity, I have heard that taking female oriented talent development strategies to a board can be a difficult ‘sell’.
Surely leaders don’t believe that a generation of men - with professional partners and graduate daughters who they support in their chosen career paths - would want to block the progression of female colleagues or not welcome the competition? On paper there shouldn’t be this disparity. So future surveys need to focus on the men in power to get a greater understanding of why these barriers still exist.
Only by influencing this senior male audience to actively widen the talent pipeline to include women will organisations create a positive environment to release the true potential of women as business leaders.
Jane Kirk is a director at Armstrong Craven, an executive research and career transition company.