GUEST: Lies, Damn Lies And Statistics: Why U.K. Gender Pay Gap Reporting Is All Three

Festive Road managing partner Caroline Strachan submitted the following thoughts on gender pay reporting in the U.K. The Beat this month covered how several travel management companies, travel tech firms, airline operators and hoteliers performed on the U.K. government's measure.

As a woman living in the U.K., I can't help but be frustrated by the current coverage of the U.K. "gender pay gap." Let's start with those three words: "gender pay gap." The use of "pay" is misleading. The reporting is simply giving us a picture of the gender gap across different positions in a workplace__but not the actual pay.

The official government statement is: "The gender pay gap is the difference in the average hourly wage of all men and women across a workforce. If women do more of the less well-paid jobs within an organization than men, the gender pay gap is usually bigger." Exactly.

If pilots at an airline are majority male and the cabin crew is majority female, then of course there will be a pay gap. This isn't a gender pay gap, this is a gender role gap.

For the majority, I truly believe that a gender pay gap is not the case. In the U.K., unequal pay for equal work has been unlawful since 1970. However, if any CEO wants to know the real picture, beyond meaningless averages, they should follow the lead of CEO Marc Benioff. The company reveals through annual reporting gender gaps in like-for-like roles across the whole company and then goes about fixing them.

In the first year, this cost $3 million, but it was crucial for Marc and the strength of equal culture the company enjoys.

Using averages has its place in business, but using averages across a whole workforce's pay, from recent graduates and trainees to the CEO, isn't remotely helpful in assessing an actual like-for-like pay gap.

It is, however, helpful to report a statistic we already know: There are fewer women in higher paid jobs than men. Therefore, my request of the media and leaders in the industry is to focus on how to address this imbalance: How do we support more women's movement into senior roles? (No tokenism here. No woman wants to be promoted just because she's a woman.)

Once we achieve balance, this pay gap naturally closes. Forward-thinking companies already get this.

Marriott, for example, has the lowest "gap" among companies covered by The Beat, at 3 percent. It's quite simple: Marriott has great gender diversity in senior roles, hence the tiny gap.

I recently led a Marriott Women in Business event for the company's clients and spoke to many of their female mid-level management. They're quite confused by the need to focus on women in business in such detail, because gender just isn't an issue in their company. They feel everyone has access to the same opportunities. Egencia was another with a lower gap. From the female leaders there I've met and spoken with, similar to Marriott, gender diversity is just normal within Expedia Group. So how to move from a gender role gap to a point of equality?

First, I encourage all leaders to understand the business opportunity in building more diversity in senior roles. A 2016 Peterson Institute for International Economics study of nearly 22,000 global companies found that as companies increased the number of women among board members and senior leaders their profit margins increased as well.

I remember a tipping point for me personally at a dinner with Sabre Travel Network president Wade Jones. He said to me: "Why wouldn't I want a real mix of people, including a healthy gender mix, on my leadership team? Without it, I wouldn't get the necessary diversity of thinking to successfully run our business."

It sounds so obvious doesn't it?

Second, I call for companies to take practical and real steps to create a path into leadership roles for both women and men.

Many companies have cultures and policies that exclude some women and encourage men. We need to turn that on its head. In the forthcoming WINiT conference in New York, I will moderate a "manel" (a panel purely populated by men!) to ask executives what more men can do to drive positive change. We'll discuss, in addition to their personal ideas and views, these five steps recommended by BCG:

  1. Support flexible work policies.
  2. Model the right behaviors.
  3. Communicate fairly.
  4. Sponsor a high-potential woman.
  5. Get involved with company-specific initiatives.

Let me bring this to life. Accenture has an equal access parental leave policy of 32 weeks (sorry U.S. readers, yes 32 weeks!).

Since launching the policy in 2015, more than 250 employees have applied to take advantage, including 12 percent of eligible new fathers. Managing director Mark Smith took seven months off to look after his son. "It was important to lead by example," he said, "and show people that it wouldn't affect their career progression." We need more examples like this.

Outside of the gender role gap, there may still be cases of women doing the same job as men for less pay. See the example above; the company is working to eradicate the gap, but it still exists. My argument is that the current U.K. reporting doesn't expose this.

I co-lead an online support network for more than 1,700 women, Women at Work, where salary negotiations often are a topic. On the forum recently, a group of more than 50 women coached a peer on holding out for a higher salary. It took courage to walk away from the perceived dream job offer, even though it was underpaid. She did and__you guessed it__the employer came back with 10 percent more than the original offer. She readily admitted that in the past, she'd have accepted the first offer! So, until reporting moves to an adequate level, I have some important advice for women thinking about their pay (though it equally applies to men):

  1. Know your worth.
  2. Have confidence in your ability.
  3. Be prepared to walk away if you don't get what you deserve.

This advice, along with the practices and policies mentioned above, will be what takes us on the right path to gender role and gender pay equality.