Back in April nearly, 10,000 organisations in the UK disclosed differences between men and women’s pay, revealing a marked disparity between the genders. Advertising agencies, in particular, demonstrate a huge variability in salaries: while some companies showed a relatively small gap – 5.7% – others had a larger divide of up to 38.8%. So while progress is clearly being made in some organisations, there is no denying that more work is needed across the board.
With this in mind, what does the advertising industry still need to do to close the gender pay gap?
As questions are raised about the pay divide, other industries such as financial services have justified the gap by the higher incidence of men in senior positions. Although this signals that differences in pay are as much about differences in job title, it will still be vital for all industries to understand and reduce obstacles to women’s progression -- and advertising is no exception.
To create a true meritocracy and ensure that the most able talent is rewarded, agencies can carry out regular audits to determine whether fast-track schemes are equally available to all. If disparities are revealed, positive discrimination can be a mechanism to reduce the gender gap and provide role models for other employees to progress.
There is also a widespread perception that women can lack faith in themselves. If this holds true, then gender and minority-specific mentoring schemes can be a valuable way to boost confidence and ensure that all employees receive the recognition they deserve.
It goes without saying that fair pay will attract the best talent. But the gender pay results showed that women are not always equally rewarded for their contribution, which may discourage the most able executives from applying to agencies that are known to underpay. Furthermore, for existing team members, fair pay can help agencies retain high performers -- yet one of the biggest differences in pay was found in bonuses, with men being paid up to 80% more than women.
To ensure they will receive fair pay, candidates can review ads for similar agency jobs to determine an industry benchmark. There is also a growing movement for employees to increase transparency by talking about pay together. Agencies can also help close the gap by encouraging women and individuals from minority groups to communicate career plans to decision makers, and then use this information to develop clear plans for progression.
The recent statistics reflect gaps in pay, but it is important to recognise that gender inequality affects more than salary -- and the pay gap has a symbiotic relationship with many other disadvantaged groups such as ethic minorities, the LGBT community, those from less privileged economic backgrounds, and people with disabilities.
To drive change, agencies — and companies outside of advertising — must examine the type of environment they create. This may include not discriminating against those who take maternity and paternity leave or work part time, and checking whether the cost of childcare is subsidised. It is key to involve male colleagues in this conversation too, as sharing the benefits and burdens of parenthood will make working easier for everyone. During a recent debate held by IAA UK on the pay gap, many male attendees said they often found it difficult to show emotion in the workplace, suggesting that gender inequality is a double-edged sword and restricts male participation.
The debate also revealed a widespread perception that start-ups are more meritocratic, as their future depends solely on having the most skilled staff. But with this in mind, it’s worth remembering that maintaining fair pay is an ongoing responsibility for everyone. Companies employing less than 250 people did not feature in the gender pay gap analysis, meaning that cultural barriers could still be as strong across the board.
The pay gap as a new barometer
Although the Equality Act has revealed that the advertising industry still has plenty of challenges ahead when it comes to fair pay, it has helped organisations take the positive step of talking about the issue. Because it interrelates to many aspects of inequality, conscientious businesses must monitor the pay divide: keeping it front and centre of discussions. As perhaps the most visible measure of inequality, the salience of fair pay is an opportunity for agencies to boost their reputation as an employer and hire the most talented staff.
For women and people from minority groups in advertising, the public revelation of the gender pay gap means the time is now ripe for change. By working with their employers, they will be able to secure a fairer deal and ensure the industry remains a desirable place to work now and in the future.