The Issue of Gender Equality -- What Can Your Business Do?

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By Lindsay Pattison, Global CEO, Maxus

The fact that yesterday (April 12th) was the day when women’s earnings finally caught up with men’s 2015 pay makes it clear that we still have a glaring gender incongruence to overcome in our workplaces.

While the ethical objective for equality is a given, the Equal Pay Day is a timely opportunity to look at the financial gains of better equality in the workplace. Studies by McKinsey & Company, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers all confirm that companies with greater diversity at board level significantly outperform those without. From a national perspective, achieving gender parity in the U.S. would boost the economy by a staggering $4.3 billion.

Gender equality is a goal we must meet in the work environment – it creates a more vibrant, productive working culture, while also driving profitability. And I would add that it’s especially important in media: here at Maxus, we’ve seen countless examples in which offering a more diverse, alternative perspective has lent us a competitive edge. Here are some practical steps to consider, with the proviso that they will need to sit within a wider commitment to equality:

Crunch your data

Equality begins with awareness. We investigated our own global network and found a healthy number of women in senior roles – 40% – at head of and director level. However, the story changes at the board level with only 24% of our executive board members being women. Seeing these figures in black and white, after years of championing workplace equality, was the push for me to look at what I can do within my own business.

Investigate existing policies

Leaders need to implement policies that support parents’ choices, whatever they may be. As the only industrialised country with no national paid leave policy, this is an obvious hurdle in the U.S. Slowly though, this is changing – with our New York office now offering up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio deciding to give non-unionized public employees six weeks of fully paid parental leave starting this year.

Moreover, presenteeism, or the notion that people need to be at the office from 9-5 to be productive, is outdated. Technology has enabled us to be more agile and flexible with our work, and modern agencies also need to recognize that people can be just as productive wherever and whenever suits best. Many non-parents also value this way of working and it’s something we offer in two-thirds of our markets.

Share your own pay data

The pay gap can only persist within a culture of secrecy – yet around 60% of companies don’t share pay figures with their staff.  The fact that women still earn $0.79 to every full dollar a man makes, falling to $0.60 and $0.55 for African American and Latina women respectively, is something we urgently need to change.

I always say that we as an industry need to put our money where our mouth is, which is also why I investigated our own pay data at Maxus and found that globally our men are paid 4%. This is better than the global average of 19% in 2015, but could still improve. With this data in mind, I launched a global initiative reviewing pay, flexible working, maternity and paternity policies. We’re using our U.K. office, where the difference is 0.5% in favor of women, as a blueprint for best practice. Talking about these issues and acknowledging that there is a problem is a necessary first step, but we are at a point now where we need to take serious action to make sure we can show positive progress year over year.

Nurture the next tier of female leaders  

Women in senior roles have a hugely important role to play in succession planning, giving other women a leg up the career ladder through mentoring and coaching. Building a pipeline of female leaders takes time. I am currently wrapping up our “U.S. tour” as a part of our organized intensive two-day experiences, covering three regions, with the aim of equipping 200 of our senior female talent with the confidence they need to thrive in their careers. As a result, we are already in the process of creating local groups that will lead a ripple effect of female empowerment across markets. Action is always followed with more action, so start small and listen to your employees, and you will see greater things happening as a result.

Equality doesn’t mean doing down men

The aim with any equality initiative shouldn’t be to create an undue advantage for women, but simply to remove barriers to a level playing field. No woman would want to be paid more just because of her gender, but everybody should be rewarded fairly based on merit. Lots of business leaders today talk a good game on gender equality, but many have yet to start walking the talk. Those that do will reap the rewards of drawing their senior teams from a wider talent pool, enjoying better collaboration, better results and a happier workforce.

Let’s hope it isn’t too long before we can replace Equal Pay Day with, simply, equality.