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Engaging male stakeholders to close the gender pay gap

Recently as part of a three part – Bubble webinar series, Bubble CCO Sarah Hesz chaired a discussion around the importance of engaging male stakeholders in order to close the gender pay gap. The discussion was with Dagmar Albers, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Pfizer and Simon Watson, Head of Customer Segment and Group Sponsor of Male Allies at Nat West.

Both have been active in terms of creating tangible strategies within their organisations to engage diverse stakeholders, and promote greater inclusivity in the workplace.

The pandemic was a force for good and bad

It was clear from the discussion that the pandemic had brought about both positive and negative changes in terms of our understanding of gender equality. Men were spending more time at home so they’d become more aware of the ‘domestic load’ (which is often invisible) and there was therefore an opportunity for change in terms of the division of labour:

‘The pandemic forced a discussion about gender equality but it has both progressed things and provided setbacks,’ Simon explained, ‘It gave a once in a lifetime learning experience for men to get an insight into the workings of a household, but then women have been impacted by job losses and the burden of labour hasn’t visibly changed. Domestic labour is still more of a female responsibility.’ 

Dagmar echoed this point and identified how flexible working had also come more onto the agenda, was more normalised, and this was alongside a shift in generational expectations:

‘The pandemic enabled this re-thinking about what work really is. This flexible working concept suddenly moved forward. Millennials are also saying- I want to be a proper parent and I want to have a career. Women are stepping up and applying for more senior roles and these roles require greater flexibility in order to do them well.’

The importance of including all genders in discussions around gender equality

It was clear from the discussion that in the past debates around gender equality were less powerful because men weren’t included. However the term ‘male ally’ could also feel divisive as it implied that not all men were allies and therefore fostered bad feeling.

Simon explained in more detail why it was important to have all genders involved: ‘Essentially the way I would think about it is that we want to ensure that as many men as possible are involved in the discussions around gender equality. They still make up the majority of the workplace. Without them talking about their own concerns then we won’t ever make any progress.’

Dagmar agreed with this point: ‘If you don’t include everyone in the conversation then you won’t get any results. You’re only relying on the efforts of half of the population. It requires an equal effort from men and women.’

She also argued that we need to move beyond the ‘blame game’ and create an inclusive work culture: ‘When we do internal workshops and women talk about some of the things that are happening to them, sometimes men don’t even know. Why would they? They’re not women! We need to talk about it and create an inclusive culture.’ 

There isn’t one solution and a multi-faceted approach works best

It was clear from the discussion that there wasn’t one solution and a multi-faceted approach to promoting gender equality was the way forward. Initiatives therefore needed to focus on recruitment, creating impact through internal workshops and providing diverse role models: ‘So one thing is to close the gender pay gap,’ Dagmar explained, ‘We also need to ensure recruitment diversity. And make sure we have gender neutral job descriptions. These job descriptions need to offer flexible working or you won’t get diverse people applying. We created a career support programme and tackle issues such as being an effective self advocate and taking the lead. We bring in a lot of diversity so they’re delivered by men and women, and we also represent diverse ages and ethnic backgrounds.’

Dagmar also identified paternity leave as something that needs to be discussed more, with an emphasis on simplifying the process and making it easier for potential fathers to decide on the best option: ‘We also have workshops about paternity leave because sometimes policies can look complicated. It’s important to educate people around the benefits of leave and the barriers. It’s still the case that a lot of men don’t take leave because they’re worried it will damage their career.’

Mentoring plays an important role in promoting gender equality

If people can’t see examples of inspirational leaders then it’s clear that things will stay the same. They also need to have access to decision makers and learn from their experiences. One area that Simon raised was how mentoring needed to respond to modern times. Women need to get the same opportunities as men:  ‘We have recently launched an initiative around mentorship. With masculine legacies senior men weren’t traditionally feeling comfortable with junior female colleagues. You need to have these discussions. We now link together junior female colleagues with senior men in the organisation. Mentorships schemes offer personal and direct insight into the lived experience of another colleague.

The importance of avoiding generalisations when creating gender equality at work

One thing that can create greater division is the idea that men and women  have certain ‘set characteristics’. This means that conversations are rigid and unhelpful with both sides feeling defensive.  Simon pulled out an example of this and how getting rid of assumptions around gender is helpful in moving things forward: ‘One of the things I remember saying in one of our webinars is that there were lots of conversations about ‘men within the organisation’. This wasn’t helpful because not all men are the same, just as all women don’t share a body of characteristics too. There needs to be more nuance in the conversation.’

Tailor the message you want to get out there

The discussion also revealed that the message needs to be tailored to the audience in order to promote real step change. It is also important for organisations to think about who they are speaking to, and how they can create the greatest impact. Just like marketing executives think about simplifying messages for audiences, so leaders need to think about making workshops, courses and broader initiatives engaging.

This will encourage more people to get involved. Dagmar elaborated on this point: ‘We have this whole comms campaign so each of my work streams has a different colour and that helps to grab attention. We create provocative, snazzy titles for workshops that make people think. So an example might be- I am a self advocate are you?  There is now this sense of healthy competition because teams want to get involved.’ 

And finally what else can companies do to promote gender equality and close the pay gap?

Simon wrapped up by saying: ‘If you are starting from zero it is valuable to have a place that encourages men to be part of the broader conversation. Also include diverse ages as they will have different role models. Let those conversations flourish. If you can create the conditions in small groups for the people who don’t agree to not agree this is also important. Otherwise these people get  pushed out to the side and they will become a distraction or a negative force.’

Dagmar concluded on the importance of not making too many assumptions when thinking about the different needs of your team when it comes to gender. She offered the example of a woman returning from maternity leave: ‘Managers might want to put her in cotton wool and be nice and caring but they don’t consider that this woman has spent 12 months feeling like she wasn’t using her brain in the same way as she was before, and she really wants to get her teeth into a juicy project. Managers sometimes make assumptions around what the person wants and that in turn can harm a woman’s career.’

And what about the ‘elephant in the room’? The fact that so many women still earn far less than their male colleagues?

Among full time employees the gender pay gap in April 2021 was 7.9% (data from the Office of National Statistics).

Dagmar suggested that women need to improve their negotiation skills but also society as a whole needs to reframe the way men and women think about money: ‘There is research out there that when male and female students are asked what they see themselves earning in 5 years time,  women tend to put themselves down in terms of their salary expectations. They don’t think they are worth as much. So we need to tackle this perception  head on and also ensure women have the skills they need to negotiate and know their worth.’

Overall the discussion offered clear and tangible ways to promote gender equality but it was clear that the companies that were leading the way were those that implemented a range of clear and actionable strategies, each tailored to a specific audience and challenge. 


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