Diversity & Inclusion

Can the Pay Gap be closed? – March 2022

Let’s begin with a quick history lesson. After the success of the Davies Review into women on boards – a coalition government initiative pushing for 25% of the boards of FTSE 100 companies to be made up of women – the Hampton-Alexander Review was launched with the target of women holding 33% of board positions in FTSE 350 companies.

As I pointed out during the Davies Review, these targets were largely accomplished using a small pool of female non-executive directors sitting on multiple boards, rather than appointing women to senior executive director roles. In Norway, where 40% women on boards is enshrined in law, they call this phenomenon the Golden Skirts.

My point is that whenever a government tries to create change, the finest minds in the affected organisations will find a loophole that maintains the status quo. So, when the government announced they would be introducing gender pay gap reporting, I was completely unsurprised to see several large organisations outsource reception and cleaning contractors. The low paid, almost entirely female workers in those roles would have dramatically skewed their results. So, they were removed from the balance sheet.

As we know, the root causes of the gender pay gap are primarily social and cultural factors rather than ‘big bad bosses’. Childcare and caring responsibilities fall overwhelmingly on women, forcing them to make a choice between career or family that men rarely must make. The nature of pregnancy and post-partum recovery means that the vast majority of women neither can nor wish to return straight to work after giving birth.

I’ve also argued before that, unless racists are diligent enough to identify which part of the Indian subcontinent someone is from before discriminating against them, a purely bias-based explanation for the race pay gap doesn’t make sense. The difference in outcomes between Indian workers and Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers is too significant. The same applies to a lesser extent between Black African workers and Black Caribbean workers.

So once again, we must consider that culture and individual choice contribute to the race pay gap. In a multicultural society, should we be pushing monocultural values on work and the pursuit of money? If anything, the demand for hybrid and homeworking suggests that the dominant pre-pandemic working culture is being rejected by increasing numbers from all backgrounds.


In my view this means there will always be race and gender pay gaps. The alternative is to overrule women’s choices to spend time with and nurture their children by forcing them back to work. Or to forcibly replace family and community values with individualism.

But acknowledging that there likely will always be some level of pay gap doesn’t mean accepting the status quo. We wouldn’t accept the existence of external factors as an excuse for not taking action on internal factors in any other area of our organisations.

It’s our responsibility as HR professionals to identify discrepancies and anomalies in our workforces. The amount of information at our disposal means new skills are crucial for HR – we’re now data analysts, modellers and scientists. Make no mistake, the HR professional of 2030 will be just as proficient with SQL and Python as they are with appraisals and redundancy.

The data we already hold on our workforces is more than sufficient to identify specific issues on pay gaps, down to department and even team level. But of course, without the will to make change, change won’t happen. As I mentioned earlier, change is resisted. Loopholes will be found to avoid making widespread change.


Help employees explore the issues that contribute to pay gaps with our Gender Pay Gap Fact Sheet.

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A US study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology looked at 1,500 companies across 20 years, and found female senior managers under a female CEO earnt 16% less than female senior managers under a male CEO. The authors concluded that the presence of a female CEO resulted in gender diversity being marked as ‘done’, and the incentive to retain and promote other women into senior roles is removed.

This tick box approach to diversity is of concern in relation to pay gaps. We’ve seen that if a loophole can be found, it’ll be taken. Public reporting incentivises organisations to remove the issue (by outsourcing low paid roles) rather than doing the desired action of equalising the gender split at all pay grades. Why worry about recruiting and developing women for top executive positions when you can simply add a ‘Golden Skirt’ to your board.

We have to think in the medium to long term. If it takes 15 to 20 years for someone to reach a senior position then we’re currently seeing the outcomes of initiatives launched in the early noughties.

Large organisations will already have sufficient data to assess their actions over this time frame. Smaller ones may not. What we can’t do is fall back into the trap of launching an initiative and replacing it after two or three years, when clearly it’s only impacting a tiny proportion of an employee’s lifecycle.

And this links in with the short-termism of the modern career in general. With many employees moving employer to progress to higher roles rather than internal promotions, it raises the question of who is responsible at all? With individualism driving career moves, should the question of development also rest with the individual? What incentive does an employer have to promote groups with pay gaps, if they’re simply providing a springboard to their next role?  Only diversity as a public relations exercise, which is the same incentive that leads to organisations with a female CEO ticking the box of gender diversity and marking it complete.


So what can you do?


Resolve what we control. Whilst many pay gap factors are out of our hands, there’s still plenty we can do. De-biasing processes might not be headline grabbing, but it has a long-term effect.


Targets not quotas. But more specifically, targets that have buy-in from senior leaders. If you force an organisation to do something, it’ll find a way to meet the letter of the law without actually achieving the intent or spirit. Targets represent an ambition rather than an obligation. Targets driven by senior leaders, who have a disproportionate influence on organisational culture, are far more likely to achieve their intended goals.


Get to grips with data. Advanced data skills are like gold dust in the HR world, but are normalised in other business areas. The ability to spot trends and patterns in your datasets allows you to target and focus your policies and initiatives, removes guesswork and allows you to quantify your impact. HR has long been seen as lacking the business nous of other departments, but proper use of data will quickly change this image.


Use our International Women’s Day Fact Sheet to share some important facts about how misogyny and sexism still exist today.

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Diversity & Inclusion

Adjusted Attitudes – December 2021

It’s 25 years since the UK introduced reasonable adjustments in the workplace. Part of 1995’s Disability Discrimination Act, these measures made employers responsible for making changes in their workplaces to remove the effect of an employee or candidate’s disability. Reasonable adjustment requirements were beefed up further by 2010’s Equality Act, and now employers and line managers are acutely aware of their responsibilities to people with disabilities.

The Covid pandemic has changed people’s perceptions around health. Suddenly large numbers of people who had never bothered themselves with health or disability issues at work found themselves ‘at risk’ and ‘vulnerable’, whether because of age or health issues they’d never seen as serious.

The number of people affected, as well as the health and safety rules introduced for everyone during the pandemic, has meant a big change in attitudes to reasonable adjustments.

We’re now in a world where everyone is concerned by health. Not only that, but it’s been completely normalised for individuals to take actions to protect other people. One effect of this is the normalisation and appreciation of workplace adjustments. Employers have adjusted working practices across their employee populations, regardless of whether the employee has a recognised disability.


I think this, alongside the rise of agile working, is indicative of the changing employer/employee relationship post-covid and post-Brexit. As I discussed last month, employee expectations are changing, and retention is much easier than recruiting. Good talent isn’t easily replaceable and making small changes can have a big impact on employee happiness.

My initial comparator would be with flexible working. When legislation was expanded in 2014 from parents and carers to all employees, employers who’d never considered home working and agile working began to go above and beyond the law, as it proved an important factor in recruiting and retaining staff. Of course, these are also the employers who were able to continue operating without huge problems when workplaces were closed in early 2020.

So I believe opening up workplace adjustments to all employees will become increasingly commonplace. I’ve already seen new starter budgets, where new employees are given a small budget to create the workspace they can work best in. This budget can be spent on things like specialist furniture, such as chairs or standing desks, or tech adjustments like noise cancelling headphones. Being available to all employees means reasonable adjustments aren’t seen as ‘special treatment’, but as a policy that any employee can access to produce their best work.

Get started:

Use our Disability Fact Sheet to start conversations and encourage deeper thinking about disability and accessibility issues in the workplace.

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This also helps shine a different lens on disability and accessibility. It normalises the idea of different needs, whether they’re because of a recognised disability, short-term health issues or just personal preference.

This helps change the narrative around disability from what people can’t do, to how can we help them do it. It means we can improve attitudes and ensure line managers know they’ll be supported if they hire a disabled employee, not left to sort issues themselves.

My favourite outcome of the pandemic is the end of presenteeism. It never should’ve been encouraged for people to come to work whilst clearly contagiously ill. It’s unpleasant for everyone, and downright dangerous for the vulnerable or immunocompromised.

Now that technical solutions exist for so many roles to be done from home, the main reason for presenteeism is line managers. It’s up to us in HR to make it clear as we head into winter that working from home with a cold is preferable to infecting the entire workplace. Tackling machismo ‘man-up’ attitudes to illness is a long term challenge, but one that should be part of your thinking around both disability and your wellbeing strategy.


There are a few things you can start thinking about today


Are you up to date with best practice? Is your organisation already actioning initiatives like adjustment passports (which allow adjustments to move with the worker around the organisation).

Employers are doing some great work around disability and accessibility, often with very low cost and high impact. You can identify success from award brochures or simply by putting out an appeal for help on LinkedIn. Most people are more than happy to share how they’re making work better for under-represented groups.


Change the language. This isn’t about political correctness and banning words, it’s about not highlighting difference. Making a workplace adjustment is something everyone does – changing the height of a chair is a workplace adjustment. In that context it becomes more about ensuring everyone is comfortable at work.

I hate the term reasonable adjustment. It suggests that some adjustments are declined because the request is unreasonable, instead of the real reason, which is often that the employee isn’t worth the financial cost of the adjustment.


Learn from Covid. You’ve just been through (hopefully) the biggest exercise in adjusting employee’s working arrangements you’ll ever have to do. What went well, and where did existing processes and procedures create problems?

Not only will this help make your workplace adjustments better, but also help with risk management. What happened with Covid is a good indicator of the government’s response to a future pandemic. And pandemics aren’t the only thing that may cause an organisational shutdown or limits to movement – the experience you’ve gained from Covid would be relevant to a cyber shutdown, climate event or other country-wide business disruption.

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Diversity & Inclusion

Has Anything Really Changed? – October 2021

October is the UK’s Black History Month. Which makes it the ideal time to look back on the impact of almost 18 months of Black Lives Matter being in the public eye.

Race is one of the key areas where the work of HR crosses into social issues. And last year we had a real opportunity to make a long-lasting impact, when racial differences and disparities finally received the attention they deserved from the public, business and the government.

Since then we’ve seen the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities deliver their report. It included a call to finally retire the BAME acronym, which has been used interchangeably with ‘not White British’.

It’s a big step forward which recognises a truth that’s been obvious for years – unequal outcomes aren’t just due to not being white. The BAME acronym has meant both the Indian and Chinese ethnic groups have been labelled disadvantaged, whilst outperforming all other ethnic groups on almost every metric.

And awkward facts keep coming up the further one digs through the labels. Take the disparity of outcomes between Black African and Black Caribbean Brits. Over two thirds of Black African young people go to university, but fewer than half of Black Caribbean young people.

Which means your award-winning graduate programme for young Black grads is probably reinforcing an inequality. Like I said – awkward.

And even the Black African ethnic group is a lazy inference. Black Africans of Somali heritage have little in common with Black Africans of Nigerian heritage.


We know monitoring is important. We know that outside of the urban cities racial diversity almost disappears, or at least changes drastically. That means basing your organisation in Leicester or six miles outside the city boundary in Loughborough has a huge impact on local workforce diversity; there are 4x proportionally more Black people in Leicester than Loughborough.

That means when setting workforce diversity targets your definitions are important. If your aim is to be representative of the local area, does that mean the immediate area, the council area or the entire region?

We saw an immediate response to last summer’s protests from senior leaders. However, it’s actions, rather than words, which let us see who simply put their name on a drafted press release, and who actually meant it.

Last month’s email discussed culture change, and the difference between official and unofficial workplace cultures. Black Lives Matter is a fantastic example of how immovable unofficial culture can be.

Take last year’s report from tech firm EyeCue, who found that the skin tones featured in social media posts from beauty brands got much darker last summer as Black Lives Matter protests peaked, but then trended lighter again into the autumn.

Change was resisted, as it always is. As HR leaders we all know the change curve, and should recognise it applies here just as it does anywhere else.


Whilst our position as employers gives us influence over social issues, it doesn’t give us control over them. Our initiatives contribute to change. But don’t change things by themselves. And as with all things, individuals go through the change curve at different rates.

We should also remember that whilst every part of your organisation can set themselves diversity targets, they’ll all have very different impacts and timescales.

The marketing department could quite easily switch a large amount of their spend to influencers of colour next quarter. It can pull ads from mainstream publications and increase spending with diverse publications. And it can do this without a single person of colour in its ranks.

HR’s work is much longer term. It’s typically measured in terms of workforce demographics, progression and retention. It looks at trends, not individual actions. Our actions show results over years, not months or quarters. Indeed, if we were to achieve dramatic demographic change in months, we’d have almost certainly broken the law.

We have a number of proven tools to steer change. Blind CVs. Unconscious bias awareness training. Listening to feedback from your employee populations, not just collecting it.


So what can we do in HR that delivers racial equality in both the workplace and society?


Convert objectors. Most of those objecting to your initiatives aren’t against racial equality, but they are against things like ‘woke nonsense’, ‘overpaid non-jobs’ and ‘wishy-washy workshops’.

You may have persuaded the board to embrace your initiative, but the failure of most diversity schemes is because they’re not communicated properly to those it’s aimed at!

If you have a large and diverse workforce, a one-size-fits-all training programme will miss most of its targets.


Reach out to the communities you work in, listen and understand. As we’ve already discussed, there’s no one homogenous ‘Black Community’. Black communities in Manchester will have a very different make-up and face very different challenges to Black communities in London.

If you actually want to make a difference, rather than simply ticking off a box for your annual review, your actions need to be tailored and bespoke to every location you operate from.

The great thing about this approach is that whilst there’s a lot of upfront work, you’ll create a playbook of trusted interventions that you can reuse.


Stop looking at census figures. You wouldn’t make decisions based on ten year old data in any other part of HR, so why are you doing it here? Initial census figures from 2021 are due next March, and will no doubt result in frantic updates to internal representation targets.

So beware of trumpeting results against census figures this year. Instead, begin preparing for next year’s figures, and where you can begin to look at local figures for the areas you work in. Also consider that racial demographics aren’t uniform through age groups, and the working population is considerably more ethnically diverse than the population as a whole.


As HR leaders, we know sustainable change comes incrementally, not overnight. We make a small change, embed it, then build upon it – with an eye to the end goal.

Sir Keir Starmer was criticised for referring to Black Lives Matter as a moment, rather than a movement. But in reality it’s both. We should all hope the movement doesn’t need to take to the streets again, as that will probably come as the result of another Black person’s death. In that respect the Black Lives Matter protests we saw was a moment.

But we should also ensure that moment was a trigger. One we all use to do better. Has anything really changed? I don’t think we should expect end-results yet. But you should have begun taking actions.

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