Closing the gender pay gap, inch by inch. Seven steps in the right direction.

Last year, more than ten thousand private firms provided details of their gender pay gap. It turned out that three quarters of them paid men more than women. One year later, the results are in – but what’s the verdict? In the last year the UK’s gender pay gap has barely moved, men are still being paid more than women, with the average gap narrowing just 0.1% to 9.6%. More shockingly, the results also show that there isn’t a single sector in the UK economy that pays women the same as men.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) mandated that companies publish their pay gap data, but they didn’t have to deliver action plans or specific targets. Rather than discourage us, these results should serve as a sharp reminder of how much work there is left to do.

It’s not all bad news. Some organisations out there are doing great things and have successfully managed to narrow their gender pay gap. An achievement like that should be acknowledged – big congratulations to you all.  It is important to remember that no single action or report is going to close the gender pay gap. Instead, organisations need to focus on making consistent progress and taking steps in the right direction.

1. Avoid quick fixes
There is no magic spell. Organisations who are truly working to close the gender pay gap understand that it’s a result of structural inequality. There are no short-term fixes. Isolated actions like promoting all women to senior positions or cutting mens’ pay only creates long-term problems.

2. Understand the root causes
With structural factors at play, you can’t guess at what has the greatest impact on gender balance in your specific organisation. Take the time to diagnose the biggest barriers for women. Proving that gender inequality hurts your bottom line tends to convince the sceptics, so get as much data as you can. Combine talent pipeline data with engagement survey results and don’t neglect the anecdotes that women share in private.

3. Create a new deal for your working dads
How can your organisation increase support for your working dads? For many families, Shared Parental Leave (SPL) can be a financially unviable option. Talking Talent’s 2018 research showed that 51% of working parents thought that fathers who took SPL would experience a significant detrimental effect on their career progress. Counter men’s fears about the fall-out of SPL by promoting it from within. Championing SPL is good for new fathers and has the knock-on effect of creating the space working mums need to develop their careers.

4. Learn from your own people
Have people in your organisation had an opportunity to voice their opinions about the causes and potential solutions to the gender pay gap? Create an environment in which people feel that it’s safe to speak up. Men are more likely to engage in conversations about gender equality if they feel included. Hard data can dispel myths about inclusion – like women being ‘less ambitious’ – and communal myth- busting can spark new conversations.

5. Change the narrative
Making gender equality an iconic part of your culture will deliver benefits for everyone in the business. But unless you provide context, the pay gap data has little more than shock value. What is your organisation’s Inclusion & Diversity story? Changing policies and practices isn’t enough; attitudes have to change too. Creating a strong narrative to explain the changes you’re making to support gender equality fosters progress. It impacts the way employees perceive the data and whether managers implement actionable insights around it.

6. Improve line manager capabilities
If asked, how would your people rate the effectiveness of their managers in helping them through the parental transition? 75% of UK managers were viewed as less than very effective at this critical pinch point of a person’s career, according to Talking Talent 2018 research. By improving line manager support for your working parents, you’ll see an increase in retention at pinch points in your female talent pipeline that could otherwise suffer.

7. Support women to help them realise their full potential
Provide opportunities for women to get clarity of their career vision and to create a plan for making it a reality. Enabling women to develop skills that will help them progress creates a long-term move towards gender balance in senior roles and raise awareness of gender diversity across your entire organisation.


The gender pay gap has a negative impact on women, but it’s not just a women’s problem. It costs organisation’s billions of pounds per year. Increasingly, women also take a company’s pay gap into account, costing businesses talent too. Instead of being discouraged by the results one year after mandatory reporting started, let’s talk about where we want to be in three years, and five years, and how we’re going to get there. What steps will you be taking to improve your Inclusion & Diversity story next year?