We’re all in this together

Yesterday I was working within a group doing some initial project planning around equality and diversity. We had a discussion around metrics and universally agreed that, while measures of success are important, if the culture is right the data will serve simply to illustrate this, and so the driver should people and behaviour rather than metrics.

It made me think about recent reporting on gender pay gap and ultimately my thoughts on the media furore around #metoo and the like.

When I read media reports I am starting to feel they are encouraging, or at least supporting, a fundamental misunderstanding of what gender pay gap is. Gender pay gap reporting is simply high level data, it is not about equal pay for work of equal value and I am seeing a blurring of the lines in media reporting on the difference between the two.

Gender pay gap reporting is a mechanism to collect data on the difference in pay to males and females within an organisation as a whole. For example, EasyJet have reported a median gender pay gap of 52%. It sounds enormous but it does not mean that EasyJet are paying men and women differently for the same job. It means that men are disproportionately represented in higher paid roles. Is that down to EasyJet being in any way sexist or unfair in their recruitment practices? Not necessarily, and that is for them to identify, but the picture is so much more deep-rooted than that.

Gender pay gap reporting is not about gender pay gap reporting. Yes, it will give some organisations reason to take a long hard look at their practices, but essentially it is a barometer of the state of our nation – it is a measure of culture.

Statistically speaking, culture can be defined by the minimum, maximum and median behaviours of a group of individuals – whether a friendship group, an organisation or an entire country. And so, at this point in time, gender pay gap reporting serves as a baseline. It tells us something about behaviour, and a lot about culture.

It doesn’t tell us that EasyJet, or any other organisation, are not applying good practice or are acting in a sexist manner. What it does tell us is that something is happening within our culture which leads to proportionally more women working in lower paid roles, and there could be a myriad of reasons for that.

I recognise, of course, that this culture forms a small part of a much larger global issue where women are disproportionately affected by injustice, violence and poverty. This post isn’t just about gender, it’s about humanity. I believe that we are at a unique point in our history where channels of communication are open – the ability to speak out, raise awareness, review where we are, and the potential for change is huge.

Positive change relies on a positive and forward-looking response to the current onslaught of data and emotion. Making gender issues all about blame is not conducive to effective change. It is unreasonable and unhelpful to take the view that all men, pitched as some kind of separate species to women, are consciously and aggressively maintaining a culture which represses women. In the same way, it is unreasonable to take the view, at this point in time, that gender pay gap reporting data tells you that individual organisations are sexist. It doesn’t. It is simply a measure which allows us to start to look at our broader culture and understand where we can break down barriers and create a more level playing field.

This current climate is an opportunity to open our eyes and recognise that we are all implicit in our own culture. The way we bring up and educate our children, the way men and women are portrayed in the media currently creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of gender inequality at a broad level.

It may be an idealistic view but movements such as #metoo, #heforshe, and data exercises such as gender pay gap reporting have the potential to open up opportunities to see who we are as a culture and to identify where we want to make changes. If we accept that culture is a product of the behaviour of all its members, then we must also accept that each of our actions has an individual impact on how that culture evolves.

Herein lies the potential for change. Embracing the availability of new information and broad opinion, and adding your own voice where you want it heard, coupled with a positive approach to change will lead to a shift in thinking, and ultimately a shift in culture. We can choose to use the current climate to tear each other down, or as a force for positive change. Take responsibility – the future is in all of our hands. I’m writing this on the day the news of Professor Stephen Hawking’s death has been reported, and so it seems apt to finish with a quote from him – “intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”

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