The Gender Pay Gap: It’s Not Just About The Money

April 2018

The Gender Pay Gap: It’s Not Just About The Money.

Over the course of each year, various HR themes become hot topics. One such theme is the gender pay gap. As we know, the headlines are that UK companies with 250 or more employees must publish their gender pay gap data by April 2018 or the end of March for the public sector. It is well publicised that some sectors have a bigger gap than others. For example, recent University audits indicate a pay disparity of more than 20 per cent. The BBC has made its own publicity about its quandary.

Having recently mediated a dispute involving an executive woman who had received less remuneration in comparison to her male colleagues, I realise how this is an issue that is not just about the money. In order to protect the confidentiality of the mediation case I will just refer to the headlines. These were that a woman was appointed to a role at the same time as two male colleagues. Each was recruited to do the same job in different parts of the country. The woman, Sue, was awarded a lower salary and job grade than her male colleagues. Other factors also played into the dispute such as inappropriate behaviours she had observed from her line manager and the subsequent feedback she provided to him. The main issue of the case was not so much about adjusting the pay and job grade to become commensurate with her male colleagues; this action was taken swiftly. It was the after effects that were proving problematic.

It is over 20 years since I studied towards my CIPD qualification. One or two areas of study have managed to stick with me. One of these was covered during the employee relations module. At a basic level, there are two elements to consider when thinking of reward frameworks. There is the extrinsic (i.e. pay) but there is also the intrinsic such as sense of achievement, self-worth and knowledge.  

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Adapted from (Sheldon, Ryan, Deci and Kasser, 2004)

Intrinsic goals fulfil psychological needs and as a result are associated with increased well-being. If I had time to refer to it in this blog we could learn much from Viktor Frankl’s work on logotherapy to get a real sense of how ones’ sense of worth can make a significant transformation to life.

Extrinsic goals can be a tick box exercise. In the case of gender pay, the government has mandated employers to address the balance (or imbalance). Extrinsic adjustments can, and do in some cases, lead to a decrease in well-being. This is partly because they can lead to enhanced social comparison. Money in itself rarely becomes a motivator once beyond a certain level. We all want to experience fairness and equity.

It appears to me that the gender pay gap has been played out as a purely extrinsic issue by some sections of the media. It is far from that.

The issue for Sue was how she had found herself feeling as a result of becoming aware of how she had been treated differently to her colleagues based on her gender. She felt anger, resentment and rage. She wanted a conversation to find out why this yawning lack of parity had happened.  She also wanted to be rewarded the same as (no more than) her male colleagues for what she regarded as the same level of contribution. Over the course of the mediation session Sue got the opportunity to ask questions and seek answers. She commented that one of the most powerful aspects for her was to be listened to. It was important for her that her line manager and indeed the organisation knew how she felt. It was agreed by the parties that the outputs of the session could be shared widely across the organisation as a way to aid organisation learning. You can read more about the benefits of mediation and organisation learning in my research on mediation and organisation diagnosis. 

Sue was a case involving one individual. There are thousands of reviews taking place all over the country. Unlike Sue, many cases will relate to groups of women sometimes referred to as collective or class action cases. The main learning for organisations is to ensure a mechanism and framework is in place to address issues that flow as a result of correcting pay disparity. Addressing the extrinsic is relatively straightforward. The intrinsic aspects less so.

Clive Lewis.

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