How do you solve a problem like... the gender pay gap?

The Drum 07 Apr 2021 10:00

Each week, we ask readers of The Drum – from brands, agencies and everything in between – for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.

This week, UK companies began releasing their gender pay gap data for the previous year. The data suggests that while progress on pay parity has been made across the industry, movement is stalling and the average gap at UK agencies actually widened 0.56% in the last year.

So, we asked marketers what practical things they are doing to help close the gap at their organizations.

How do you solve a problem like... the gender pay gap?

Melissa Robertson, chief executive officer, Dark Horses

Let’s start with the law. You can’t just ring up a headhunter and specify that you want a woman for a role. That’s been illegal since 1975. And here lies a potentially legal conundrum because I don’t think the 2010 Equalities Act is entirely cut and dry. In terms of corporate reputation, there will be an imperative to improve on gender pay gaps. And the Labour party has talked about imposing fines and sanctions on companies that show no improvement in their statistics.

You can make your business more attractive by improving your policies on flexible working and paid parental leave. You can change your attitudes (and pay) on the financial worth of certain roles that often have gender biases (HR v finance, let’s say). You can appreciate the value of a returning mother (or father) – Creative Equals has an awesome program of Creative Returnships, which agencies should be crying out for. From personal experience, I was much better at my job after becoming a mother because you totally learn how to focus and get shit done.

In March, Hill+Knowlton Strategies London published its gender pay gap for the period 2019 and 2020. Our mean gender pay gap fell from 15.3% in 2019 to 10.8% while the median figures were 8.9% in 2019 to 2.6% in 2020. I am immensely proud of this progress.

To create the greatest change in the gender pay gap, we need more women in leadership positions and to have companies foster workplaces where women can thrive. We recently onboarded 300 new employees and on their first day they received DEI training and were taught how to spot unconscious bias. This makes an inclusive workplace top of mind for all.

In 2020, the gender pay gap was 15.5%. Annual reporting for businesses (with over 250 employees) started in 2017/18 and the gap is shrinking, but slowly.

Secondly, tough targets. We are all motivated by goals. We need a big hairy audacious goal – for example, to have no gender pay gap by 2025 at the latest.

Women work an average of 63 unpaid days a year because of the gender pay gap. This inequity has thrived in cultures that shroud pay in secrecy. To counteract this, we introduced a zero pay gap policy, which is integral for our business and the women who make up 58% of our workforce.

As much as we are all invested in our businesses, clients and work, no one works for free and transparency ensures pay parity. It is only by talking openly that we can stamp out the gender pay gap – something that should be a priority for all businesses.

Improving both the female experience and the gender pay gap is a major priority for us at Iris. We’ve made a public commitment to have 50% senior female representation on the London board within 18 months and to reduce the gender pay gap by 5% year-on-year.

This will help us understand what the immediate impact of the measures we’ve been taking are having on Iris females right now. Our flexible working scheme, ‘For the Flexi’, has been designed to ensure that no one loses out by being tied to the office or rigid working hours, and our maternity and paternity packages are being modernized to ensure we increase the chances of our best female talent returning to work post-maternity leave.

Feel like joining in the discussion? Email me at to be included in future editions of this series.

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Melissa RobertsonTanya JosephHill Knowlton StrategiesHillKnowlton Strategies LondonDark Horses
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