The Gender Pay Gap

I haven't blogged in a while because, excuse is that I have just moved country (from Singapore to the UK) and that takes a fair bit of mental energy and time and planning. And it literally sucks the life out of you trying to set up bank accounts and trying not to stab yourself in the supermarket because you can't find the polenta. The other excuse is I have wanted to blog about many issues but sometimes I can't work out a way to write about these constructively*

But last week I attended a lunch and employment law update which was very helpful on a number of levels. The main being that while I know a little something about employment law in the UK (enough to be dangerous), I don't know much. This is actually a good position to be in because it makes me research and learn and talk to people who know more than me. I know what I don't know, which is better than thinking I know everything. It means I will end up in less sticky situations.

One of the items for discussion was Gender Pay Gap Reporting in the UK. I'd heard a little bit about it before I moved to the UK but as the company I work for doesn't have enough employees in the UK to have to complete the report, I let it fall out of my brain. But after some superior sandwiches and other lunch food tidbits I was in the right frame of mind to take in what this meant for employers.

Employees with more than 250 employees are expected to report their Gender Pay Gap by 2018 in the following ways:

  • the mean pay gap between men and women,
  • the median gender pay gap, and
  • the gap in bonuses paid to men and women.

The brief included what exactly constituted 250 employees and what formulas you used for the calculations and when it all had to happen by. It struck me that this type of reporting has the potential to change the culture of how we look at gender and equal pay in the workplace. Because I'm assuming that the pay gap is not going to be positive for women. Actually I know it's not because of the clever research conducted by the International Labour Organisation and the World Economic Forum and the United Nations and many many other private and public sector organisations. We know the gap is not going to be pretty and this is going to force employers to start to do something about it, because there is going to be a bit of an uproar. You would think.

But then the presentation took a bit of a turn. There was a discussion about how you could potentially avoid reporting and how if you engaged a lawyer to help you look at your data, then the data would fall under legal privilage so you could get away with not reporting (say if your results were really bad and you needed time to sort it out). And then some information on how there wouldn't be any sanctions for companies that didn't report and then I started to feel a bit "half glass empty" about the whole situation.

In my home country, Australia we have been doing reports like this through the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. At least since 2008 the reporting requirements include numbers of males and females at each level, having policies that support gender equity in relation to all parts of people management and some other stuff that I don't think anyone cares about. I think the Workplace Gender Equality Agency is doing a great job driving this agenda but most companies I have worked at have all the right policies on equal employment opportunity and flexible work practices and so on. What is harder is having the right culture and leaders who believe and live the intent of the policies.

In various roles I have either been responsible for completing the report, part of a team completing the report or reviewing the report before CEO sign off. I can say generally that most years it is a scramble to demonstrate that the organisation has done anything to move the gender diversity issue along (though maybe I haven't worked for the right organisations) and to be honest it's exhausting applying creative thought to situations that don't deserve it.

The legislation that sits behind this reporting is well intentioned and should produce outcomes where organisations really look at what's happening in their patch and start to engage in dialogues to improve the situation. Equal pay for women and men has a huge impact on our community at large. Instead the lack of teeth in forcing or reviewing the public reporting means for many HR people tasked with filling out the sometimes excruciating details, is that it is all for nothing. We seem to be lacking some real grit and courage to deal with the problem.

Gender and diversity reporting attempts to create transparency around organisational remuneration, policy and cultural practices but how can this happen when there are no ramifications for non reporting or for reporting poor figures with no robust plan to fix it?

I really like this TEDx video which was shared on my social media a number of times this week so I had to pay attention. In January this year, David Burkus talked about why sharing salaries could benefit employees, organisations and the wider society.

Take a look. What do you think? Would you want your colleagues to know what you get paid? I think the new UK legislation is attempting to create transparency around pay gaps and that's a good thing.

Or maybe we could just pinksource? Its pretty, cheap labour. Go watch this video, now!

*code for writing about a topic without getting sacked

Change is as good as a holiday.

Well that's bullshit crap rubbish! I mean really. Lie on a beach drinking cocktails, or sell your house in 4 weeks? Sightsee in a new city, or pack up your life in 2 days? Go skiing for a week or move to another country with a 2 year old and 5 year old?

I mean what is more stressful in your opinion?

When I moved to Sydney 13 years ago, I got to do a little work with Expatriates. I helped organise cultural training for employees and their families moving to countries in Asia and also assisted with medical insurance claims. My experience left me with 2 indelible thoughts.

  1. Expat employees are difficult, and
  2. How amazing would it be to move to another country to live and work?
My first experience with Expat families was when the company I worked for, sent two employees to the Philippines, one as the head of the business and the other in a finance role. I helped organise the cultural training for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 kids) and a couple. I was able to sit in on the training so I understood what it was all about, and subsequently desperately wanted to move to Manila with them! 

I have visited Manila since then and perhaps it wouldn't be my first choice for an Expat assignment but the idea that I could live and work in another country seemed exciting none the less.

Now I realise that perhaps those Expats were not so much difficult, they were just stressed! Actually, some of them were probably difficult but overall I just didn't understand the head exploding stress of packing up your whole life and moving to a different country where everything is slightly or very different, you don't understand the culture and you are still expected to do a good job. 

Over the past 4 weeks Arran and I have been in Singapore I have been reflecting on how we approached this change and how this approach has helped us through a difficult period. We approached the move with excitement and possibilities. We knew that we couldn't have the same style of housing that we had in Sydney so we decided to embrace condominium living. We knew we would be living in a much smaller place so we got rid of a lot of our furniture (not enough as it turns out) but we have the motivation of people visiting us soon will get us organized quickly in our smallish apartment!

Moving in day. Rainy and humid. View from our balcony
We have a view of the pool just 4 floors down, which someone else maintains as well as a kids playground and beautiful gardens. We have apartments all around us and instead of feeling overlooked we feel part of a big busy city. Sitting on our large-by-Singaporean-standards balcony drinking wine and blogging in the humid air is bliss!

View from our balcony as the sun sets
We have both started to make contact with people with know here. Me with a lovely colleague I met when working at Coca-Cola Amatil, who took me to just the kind of place I needed for coffee, and Arran a friend (and his wife) from high school, who invited us to their "condo" for drinks nibbles and dinner (just when we were getting sick of each others company). I also have other friends who are ready to catch up when we are. Both of us enjoyed a dinner with some of my new work mates in Singapore. Networks and contacts are important and in the 4 weeks we have,been here we have missed our social life and are looking forward to seriously ramping it up.

I'm sure if you approached an opportunity like this negatively you are never going to have fun or learn from it. If you expect things to be like home, they won't be. If you expect the same kind of housing with the same amount of room, you will be disappointed and if you expect people to be the same, well you are kidding yourself. And if you expect the weather to be the same and the ability to buy the same food and clothes well I guess you should give up*

How does this to relate to your career? Well I think it relates very well. Sometimes we end up in a place where we are not happy, and we don't really know how we got there and we don't know how to get out and move forward. This is a miserable existence and when I have been there myself my health suffered and so did those around me.  In these circumstances it's hard to get positive. The ability to make a deal with yourself about what you can learn for the experience and how long you are going to put with where you are can make a massive difference. It can get you focused with purpose in the short term.

I'm not feeling this way about my career. I'm generally happy. How could I not be? I have reached a  career goal and I still have so much to learn including the best way to work with a new business leader. Everything I touch at the moment seems hard and I don't know the answer, but I guess I will get there, as I have done before. I have never set up a payroll in South Korea, but I'm learning. I have never supported employees in the Middle East or Kazakhstan but I'm learning. Actually I'm still learning to even spell Kazakhstan! What did we do before spell check?

So tell me about when your career has been hard for you. How did you get through it?

Lisa xx

*I have already felt like giving up trying to buy swimmers. I'm only human.

Travel for work: the positive stuff

So a while back I wrote this post on travel. This is another post on travel for work but more from the perspective of how good it is for your career. Over the years I have interviewed many people for roles that require some form of travel or another. Many people don’t want these kind of roles. Some do, but many don’t. My hardest sell was for roles requiring lots of travel to India.

Last week I was in Houston (Texas), for work, and I was reflecting on how lucky I have been in a couple of my roles to travel internationally. My first real business trip in my career was to London, travelling business class. That was awesome. I love the perspective you gain from these kind of trips. Experiencing a different part of the business and a different culture. I think it makes you a better leader.

Without doubt some of my best work and career development opportunities have been because I got to travel. The things I most remember were the interactions with people and the things I got to experience. 

Some examples…..

Longest most amazing day ever
While in India where I was doing some HR Audit work (kill me) I got to travel to a little known and remote place called Mundra, located in the upper north-west corner of India.  The landscape resembled roadrunner country and to get there the plane landed at an airforce base. The company I was working for at the time had developed the operation there as well as the housing and amenities for the employees they had to attract to the area to work. The HR Manager’s role went well beyond what you would expect. She was responsible for ensuring employees had adequate housing, providing education for their children, and more.

The longest most amazing day ever started with completing the HR audit at the work location and then going on a tour of the employee housing and the school. Lunch was followed by a long drive, on a road shared with buses, trucks, motorbikes, cows and elephants. Yep. The purpose of the trip was to visit a palace which provided the set for many Bollywood movies and then we had a drink on the beach while camels meandered past. We were invited to meet the Maharaja of Kutch and share a meal. When I finally returned to my hotel room that evening I couldn’t believe the day I had just experienced. I felt that time had been stretched (as I often would feel in India) and I could not have fitted in anything more varied and different to what I did that day. It seems surreal when I now think of it.

What did I learn?
The day was about learning how time is viewed in India (everything will happen in it’s own time) and gave me great insight into companies who provided more than just a job for employees. The leaders of this business were not just managing a workforce, they were managing a community.

As a tourist I would never had such an amazing experience.

Working with team members on the other side of the world!
Probably one of the hardest things in global organisations is developing relationships when you don’t get to see people! Geographical separation coupled with cultural differences mean that misunderstandings can be blown out of proportion and the ability to get things done can be hampered. One company I worked for would have me travel to their overseas head office a couple of times a year for 2 weeks at a time and that made a massive difference to our team getting to know each other and being effective. It also gave me visibility to other leaders in the business.

Last week I was at a global meeting (which happened at about the same time last year) and our team were able to continue to build the relationships we had already established. I got to connect with some other corporate people who I had met previously and met some people who I have only had contact via email. I also went to my first Rodeo and saw REO Speedwagon perform. They still got it! I learnt a lot this week and am leaving with a very clear focus and a very tired head. All good.

What did I learn?
Despite advances in technology for communication and collaboration, I just don't think they can beat meeting in person on regular occasions. 

You can always communicate!
By far the biggest learning experience I have had working and travelling overseas was in China. One particular trip I was being picked up by my local contact who didn't speak English. He bought with him a young Chinese woman who speaks about 6 words of English. I speak 2 words in Mandarin and had Charlie with me who was 4months old and still being breastfed! I flew into Guangzhou not knowing what Hotel I was staying in but also knowing that I was having dinner with a group of Chinese people who also didn't speak English. Who would do this?
It helps that the Chinese love babies and children!

It turned out to be a great dinner and trip. We all seemed to be able to communicate over a meal and Chinese wine and these people left the young Chinese women to stay with me in the hotel so I would be safe. I'm really not sure how much use she would have been (seeing as she was half my size and we couldn't really communicate) but it was a kind gesture.

The next morning my interpreter joined me, which meant the standard of communication improved, particularly on a business level. In the end it was a successful trip.

What did I learn?
Speaking the language is really just one way to communicate. There are many other ways and strangely on this trip I think relationships were built during the times we couldn't use language to communicate. These were often over meals, which seems to be a universal way to build and strengthen relationships, no matter what country you are in.

So what's the point?
Travelling for work can be hard. It messes with any sort of routine, it's very tiring and can be difficult if you have children that need care. If you can work with all these challenges then the difference it can make to your career can be massive. Don't rule it out!