Challenge social norms to address the gender pay gap

16 September 2019

Many companies recognise there is a gender pay gap issue in their business but they don’t really know what to do about it, according to Elysia McCaffrey, deputy head of the Government Equalities Office.

The finding came after two years of gender pay gap reporting, she told the audience at a CIPS London branch event on Women in Procurement. The delegates, mainly women, had come to hear senior procurement leaders talk about their journey to senior management and beyond.

From April 2017, employers in the UK with more than 250 staff are required to publish gender pay gap figures annually. “And we’ve had 100% compliance from all businesses required to report,” she said.

The figures have found that even in sectors that attract women, they are not reaching senior levels. Despite 43% of people in finance being women, it has the biggest gender pay gap, said McCaffrey. “It’s more than 35%, so that means [women] are just not progressing.

“There are basically no neurological issues, no reasons why women can’t do as well as men. The issues are cultural, societal and systemic. And it starts at school.”

Despite outperforming boys in education for more than 20 years, when girls move into the labour market, they immediately face a gender pay gap. “We know that 67% of girls aged between 11 and 21 think that women don’t have the same chances as men,” she said.

Lower career aspirations and cultural approaches to women are accumulated through small experiences through the formative years she said, citing Disney princesses being rescued, stereotypical advertising and children’s books. These can also negatively impact men too, she added.

With missed promotions, time off to have children and difficulty returning to a level commensurate with their skills, the pay gap grows with time, said McCaffrey, and it is most pronounced by pension age.

Take a stand, be a positive role model for the future, and challenge all the social norms, she told the delegates in the room. “We need to fix the foundation for the future and make sure the generation coming through are the first generation who don’t have that story to tell about sexism and the promotion they were overlooked for.”

Delegates heard from three senior procurement leaders of the sexism they received in the past, including being asked to make the coffee at a supplier meeting to a suggestion that they must have slept their way to the post of CPO. They also referred to situations where as a woman, they felt unable to say no to an instruction, including being given a pink car that became a standing joke for three years, and being expected to leave a young child at home and “not come back until the deal is sorted”.

But the three leaders offered tips and advice for women to progress in procurement today, including getting help with cleaning, gardening and other chores at home so as not to have more chores than male colleagues, learning to say no, ensuring you complete your training, challenging somebody else’s underestimation of your achievements, and ensuring you invest in your training.

Malcolm Harrison, group CEO, CIPS, pointed to ethics and agreed on the value of investing in personal development. The new CIPS training modules are intended to be more relevant, with flexible modules, making it easier to take, he said. “We are really keen to see all the fully-qualified professionals eventually achieve chartered status,” he said. He pointed to the annual ethics test. “Ethics, which is incredibly important for society, is also incredibly important for the profession, and always has been.”

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