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Tip for employers: why putting your head in the sand about gender pay equity just won’t help & how changing your UGRs just might

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

I think most of us know by now that men and women in Australia do not get paid the same salary for doing the same job (if you need any proof just click here).  Take the industry I worked in: financial services.  Women in financial services earn just 60 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. You would think this would be of concern to anyone responsible for recruiting and retaining staff in this industry - which includes not only HR of course but people managers as well.  Obviously it's demoralising for women to work just as hard as the men around them yet earn over one-third less, and so it must play a part in the career choices women make.  Yet according to Catherine Fox in this week's AFR Corporate Woman column, there is a State of gender denial in financial services.


Fox outlines a survey by 800 FINSIA members polled for the Bridging the Gender Divide survey - which is a typical case of “heads in the sand” for the majority of men who responded.  For example, 71% of men surveyed believe companies “have taken significant steps to address the structural disadvantages that historically existed in financial services so women now have the same opportunities as men”; while 72% of women disagreed.

Or my favorite, 61% of male respondents agreed that “the pay gap in financial services is grossly exaggerated.  The gender difference in earnings is a fair reflection of the hours worked and skill sets”.  80% of women disagreed - and the statistics speak for themself.

Nearly 60% of men believe that “their workplace culture offers extensive encouragement to women”, compared with 19% of women. And 60% of women agreed with the statement: “It is almost impossible for women to progress to executive level in such a male-dominated culture as the financial services industry”.  But 85% of men did not agree.  While 21% of women say their workplace does little to encourage them, compared with only 5% of men.

So is this really simply a case of heads in the sand, or is there something else at play here?  I spoke with Steve Simpson of Unwritten Ground Rules fame to understand if it could be the things that aren’t said that are having the biggest impact on the ability for women to progress in industries such as financial services.

UGRs®, or ‘Unwritten Ground Rules’, according to Simpson, are people’s perceptions of “this is how we do things around here”.  So regardless of what the diversity and inclusiveness policies might say, it’s what happens in reality that people watch for the cues on how to react and behave, and they respond accordingly with behaviours that “fit”.

Some of the UGRs about promoting and retaining women that I’ve observed include what people say about women when they’re not in the room or when they leave the room, how they are described in talent planning discussions (I've heard women described using physical traits & assets rather than performance descriptors!), how decisions are made (in meetings, in side meetings or by committees that may or may not involve women) and even how and when meetings are scheduled (early mornings and early evenings are near impossible for working parents to manage alongside the “day care dash”.)

Simpson advocates a 4-step process to overcome these invisible barriers to career advancement for women:

  1. be aware of the UGRs - what do women and men say about the way business is done in your organisation?
  2. conduct a stocktake of the UGRs - who, what, where, when, why do people think this?
  3. get everyone involved in creating positive UGRs that would make your organisation a great place for women to work and thrive, and in understanding what needs to happen to ensure future success; and
  4. identify strategies to embed the positive UGRs for lasting change.
Simpson has worked with organisations like K-mart and Toyota to change their organisational culture by first changing their UGRs, and I think he might be onto something here when it comes to promoting women and advancing women through the ranks.

I will be discussing these factors and more in a series of employer think tanks around Australia designed to help employers find and keep the best women on their teams.  If you would like more information on the think tanks please click here to request more information.  And if you know someone - including your own boss - who would benefit from these sorts of insights, please forward this email to them and ask them to sign up for the sphinxx news alerts.  We welcome everyone at sphinxx who has an interest in the advancement and retention of women into leadership roles and specifically would love more men to get involved in the dialogue!

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