Leaving home and the gender pay gap

25 September 2020 | 5 min read | Careers
Helen Fripp

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My son’s off to university this week and it’s bittersweet. Freedom! No more piles of washing, no apologising to the neighbours for the massive PA system he imported when we were away on holiday, no more rows of massive trainers lined up in the hallway.

OK, that’s a lie, fabricated to make it alright. Obviously, I’m welling up at every encounter with him. Every ‘good morning’, every family dinner and family outing feels like a kind of goodbye. It’s the end of an era, with all my babies having flown the nest and a new start for everyone.

Which brings me to reflect on how it’s been for me and all my contemporaries to bring up children and hold down a career. Not only hold down a career, but try and excel at one. It hasn’t been easy. I was freelance when I had my first baby, with some big-name clients to work with. I didn’t want to lose them, so I started working again after only two months and have worked all the way through my two children growing up.

It was the noughties, and there wasn’t the same attitude there is now. One of my clients even said to me that he thought I should have been at home looking after the children during one of our meetings. It would have been easier to say I had a golf match arranged rather than cite childcare difficulties if I couldn’t make a meeting.

Thank goodness, it’s different now. I work flexibly, and Clearly PR makes no distinction between part time and full-time workers in terms of career progression and value. Having been through it, I really advocate for women who have families, and encourage everyone to understand the benefits of flexibility in this regard. Half the world bear children, so why are some workplaces still set up to suit a Victorian gentleman, with a rigid, 9-to-5 working pattern and attitudes to match?

It’s for that reason that I love working with our client INvolve. They run HERoes, an annual role model list published this week, which celebrates and advocates for working women, recognising that gender diversity in the workplace at all levels makes each company stronger and the world a better place.

Our work with HERoes gives us access to a wealth of data about the gender pay gap, and women’s progress through the career ladder and although we’re going in the right direction, there is still much to be done. In 2020, it’s still the case that 77 per cent of people with salaries over £73,000 are men, whilst women make up the majority (56 per cent) of professionals in the lowest pay bracket of up to £17,000.

The same research also reveals that women spend longer at each pay grade, indicating that they don’t climb the career ladder as quickly as men. Of course, the reasons for this are many and complex. Some of it is to do with conscious or unconscious bias or a lack of flexible working measures, and there are still surprisingly few companies that run regular equal pay/reward reviews. There’s also the weight of thousands of years of history, which is still being played out in many areas of the world. Where women are still seen as second-class citizens, that status still in some places enshrined by law.

This report from HR Data Hub looks at what the possible solutions might be for UK businesses, from development programmes, bias training and mentoring and coaching and beyond. The way they collect data is really interesting – they have access to the HR databases of hundreds of companies representing over four million employees, so can slice the data in terms of gender, pay and ethnicity, for example, for a watertight, representative picture of the state of play today, without relying on people responding to a survey – which in itself can produce biased results.

So, things are definitely going in the right direction – for me, my family, and diversity in the workplace. But every now and then it’s good to stop and reflect, to look to your own practices and consider how you can give the diverse and talented people you work with a hand up where it’s deserved, both at home and at work.

Here’s to the next chapter in my life and career. And the good thing is, I can go straight out after work and drink to that without the usual juggling act between work and home. Maybe it won’t be so bad, after all.