Overcoming the pay gap needs a rethink of equal pay benchmarking

12 April 2018 Consultancy.uk

A protracted row over equal pay has remained at the forefront of media attention in the UK, as the lingering pay-gap between male and female employees doing the same work comes under scrutiny in the UK. Despite the growing clamour for change, however, according to Innecto Reward Consulting’s Justine Woolf, equal pay can only be tackled once the benchmarking of pay-statistics at many firms receives an overhaul.

A century after a small portion of property-owning women became first to win female suffrage, Britain’s public and private institutions are still struggling to realise gender parity in the workplace. Several recent equal pay cases involving high-profile employers at Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda highlight the extent of the problem.

According to Justine Woolf, Client Director at Innecto Reward Consulting, many companies are re-examining equal pay issues and coming to the conclusion that they need solving - and quickly. “It’s clear that there are still several systematic barriers to achieving equal pay and we in HR need to work collaboratively to pinpoint and remove them,” Woolf added.

Equal pay discussions remain at the forefront of attention in the UKThe problem begins with the matter of defining how employees are presently rewarded. The law dictates that employers cannot pay different amounts for ‘work of equal value’ (where the work conducted is regarded as equally challenging) or ‘like work’ (people doing the same or similar jobs) according to gender. The wording here, relating to ‘value’, does allow some leeway, as employers can differentiate on performance, and where market differentials show that although work may be of equal value, the market for one role is different to another. 

Despite this seemingly straight-forward legal framework, however, when companies try to understand their equal pay policy in line with the broader market, and benchmark around it, they run into issues. This is partly due to the fact that the market data in question is based on current incumbents, provided via salary surveys, and so already reflects existing gender bias.

Woolf cited the example of a typical supermarket, in order to illustrate this. She suggested that a hypothetical store with predominantly female shop workers and predominantly male distribution depot workers, could compare themselves to other supermarkets to judge their pay position against the market. However, “The problem is that if all your competitors have the same gender distribution across types of roles, then this skews the market data and your comparison just reinforces the gender-segregated market. Male distribution workers, for example, will end up with a higher market rate as it was already inflated to begin with.”

As a result, Woolf said, a strange situation arises, where the market itself is unfairly distorted, but currently it is a genuine material defence under equal pay legislation to justify the difference on market-comparison basis – so long as firms provide evidence that they regularly compare the pay of female and male staff to the market.

Overcoming equal pay issues

For HR directors that want to overcome this, Woolf offers a number of recommendations. “To start with, I think it would be useful to have a fuller understanding of the make-up of the market data which reward specialists rely so heavily on. Gender isn’t currently a feature but perhaps if gender data was collected alongside salary information we would have a clearer view on the relationship between the two.”

Overcoming the pay gap requires a rethink of equal pay benchmarking.

However, she also underlined the fact that better understanding of pay data will only move the issue on so far. "Beyond that, practical changes can be best realised via teamwork with HR colleagues, to ensure companies treat female employees just as favourably as their male counterparts. One of the key battlegrounds on this front is the recruitment process – as encouraging women into traditionally male roles is difficult without first addressing the gender segregation inherent in many recruitment processes."

"Once women are on board, it’s the job of colleagues in Learning & Development to ensure that all employees have the chance to further their career through personal and professional development. For example, it used to be fairly common practice for supermarkets to refuse training for part-time staff, without a thought for how this would stall career progression and entrench low earning potential for this predominantly female group of employees." 

Summarising the challenges ahead, Woolf concluded, “We’ve come a long way down the road to equal pay, but the end is not yet in sight. Unfortunately, there isn’t a silver bullet solution; instead it’s up to all of us in HR to pool our insight and make sure every employee gets a fair deal.”

Related: Improving gender equality to best-in-UK could add £111 billion to economy.

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Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.