Bridging the gap

With equality and diversity issues continuing to drive public debate and the media agenda, April's deadline to publish a Gender Pay Gap report poses significant brand and reputational challenges to businesses.

By 4 April 2018, all UK firms with 250 employees or more must have published a Gender Pay Gap report.

In the words of Harriet Harman, this can be added to the series of “moments” centred on gender issues - following Weinstein, #metoo and #timesup - that have rightly been moving the debate on equality and diversity forwards.

This environment has raised the reputational stakes for firms who are required to report their pay gap, and has contributed to a mood in which platitudes around diversity commitments just won’t cut it. The potential brand impact of Gender Pay Gap reporting should not be underestimated and, with the media clearly showing they are ready to pounce on reports, a robust communications strategy is a necessity alongside the report itself and associated HR policies.

The LLP conundrum

Perhaps the biggest gender pay gap debate in the professional services arena is around whether to include LLP partners in reporting. By the strict wording of the regulations, employees are defined as per the Equality Act 2010 and this excludes partners, who are considered business owners. However, many businesses in a partnership structure have voluntarily included partners in their calculations, responding to media and wider public pressure to close what many have seen as a loophole in the rules. Not all have done so (see here), but with Clifford Chance ‘breaking ranks’ to be the first magic circle firm to publish, and several of the biggest accountancy firms taking a proactive approach, the decision to not include partners will continue to be a point of contention.

Context is key

Clearly, numbers in and of themselves do not tell the whole story. There are potentially many valid reasons for a pay gap to have been reported, or factors which might distort the figures; not least things like the impact of part time or flexible working. Creating a narrative that clearly explains, as far as is possible, the reasons behind the figures is key, while comparisons with UK or sector averages (available from the ONS) can help to contextualise results. However, there is the risk of the pendulum swinging too far. Seeking to gloss over any prevailing issues is a risky strategy and will be seized upon; if the numbers are bad, it will be far better to hold up hands and acknowledge that serious work needs to be, and is being, done.

Of course, if the numbers are far better than the average, there is a case to be made to be more proactive and position the brand as an employer of choice (of course bearing in mind the risk that next years’ numbers may go down!).

Action-oriented

This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of GPGR communications, even for those businesses who are already trying to do the right thing. Whether the result is good or bad, resting on laurels is not an option. A clear plan for improvement and further contributions to creating equality of opportunity really is imperative – both from a media perspective but also for current and future talent and other stakeholders.

Fundamentally, though, communications materials and well-prepared spokespeople are only a piece in the puzzle. The lid has been taken off the equality and diversity debate and businesses should be prepared to not only contribute to the conversation, but contribute meaningful actions that drive positive change.

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