Why the gender pay gap is a problem for men too

Why aren't more men shouting out about equal pay? All of us are dependent on women being paid fairly.

by Stephen Frost
Last Updated: 11 Jan 2018

When Carrie Gracie resigned as China Editor of the BBC this week, she gave thanks to the 'BBC audience for trusting me that this fight is for principle, not money'. (Read her open letter to licence payers here.) 

The principle is not a female principle. It is a human principle. It is one of fairness and merit assured through transparency.

Last year, 45 female stars, led by Jane Garvey, wrote to the BBC director general Tony Hall to complain about pay inequity. But where were the men? Where were the male signatories? This principle is about all of us, the men and the women, for all staff, not just the 'stars'.

Inefficient and unfair markets hurt us all. This pay injustice is morally repugnant for many of us, but it is inefficient for all of us.

All of us, men included, have sisters, and mothers and daughters and female friends and colleagues.  All of us, whether directly or indirectly, are dependent on women being paid fairly. All of us suffer when a labour market becomes distorted and paid not on the basis of merit but on the basis of bias and favour.  All of us suffer from market failure when we don’t ensure checks and balances on the best succeeding.  Diversity is the enemy of mediocrity. And transparency is its handmaiden.

To Gracie’s credit, she emphasised that this is about the millions of women who will never be ‘stars’ but suffer from the same gender bias, albeit with less transparency.

We changed the law in 2000 to allow LGBT people to serve in the UK armed services. But the law was the start, not the end. Then the cultural work began to work with military leaders to include their LGBT personnel for the overall good of the mission. I recall vividly working with senior captains in the Navy on helping them articulate their own business case for gay personnel on ships, and a decade later for women on submarines. Only when they could rationalise it in their own minds did we stand a chance of success.

But if we applied this test to male executive leaders today, in 2018, would we find a series of clearly articulated and critically personal business cases? I have attended and witnessed numerous gender parity events and too often the speeches are still scripted, rather than intuitive.

With gender pay reporting, we changed the law last year to demand transparency. This is the opportunity to work with leaders on that cultural shift, just as we have successfully worked with military leaders on their inclusion agenda. We need leadership training for executives, especially men, on why transparency and inclusion is a business asset, not cost. And we need simple systems that allow for checks and balances and to act as a nudge against discriminatory behaviour. In Norway, they have been doing this since 2001. It’s not just about pay parity, it guards against tax evasion, protects meritocracy and encourages responsible behaviour.

At a time of Brexit when all our legislation is supposedly getting copy pasted across the statute books, when gender pay reporting is compulsory by April, and at a time when we are facing some segregating forces as a society, this is the time when men need to show solidarity with women for the sake of all of us. 

MT has teamed up with the Women's Business Council to find the country's Agents of Change – championing the male executives who are pushing for parity, challenging the status quo and championing diversity. Nominate your male Agent of Change by 19th January. Details here.

Stephen Frost is the founder of Frost Included. His latest book, 'Inclusive Talent Management – How business can thrive in an age of diversity' is out now, published by Kogan Page. For more information go to www.frostincluded.com

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