YWCA Auckland CEO Monica Briggs is encouraging smaller enterprises to join the change debate on equal pay, proclaiming big business is taking all the limelight on equal pay progress in New Zealand, with SMBs seemingly silent on the matter.
Small is beautiful when it comes to business, but even better when it comes to addressing equal pay. So why isn’t the business community hearing more from SMBs who are on the equal pay journey?
This year is the fourth annual YWCA Equal Pay Awards and once again, we are taking the opportunity to ask employers what they have done to alleviate the stubborn gender pay gap in New Zealand and to prove how fair they really are.
This includes those in the SMB sector – yet in the short history of our Awards programme, it’s big business and the public sector that are stepping forward to tell their equal pay stories, with smaller businesses seemingly silent on the matter.
Perhaps this is due to the perception amongst small business that their resources don’t allow them to tackle equal pay. This could not be further from the truth, because smaller organisations have as much ability to lead in this area as large corporates. Potentially more so, as they have a direct line of sight into employee practice.
While corporates are more readily equipped to deal with equal pay, there is no reason why small businesses can’t also tackle the issue.
So why should employers care about this issue?
Today, there is more momentum around the issue than there’s ever been, particularly following the Government’s landmark decision to give 55,000 care workers, predominantly female, a 43 percent pay rise, effective as of this year.
The Government could not have made their commitment to address the gender pay gap clearer – not only put their money where their mouth is, but take a leadership position, stressing to employers that we all have a part to play to tackle the issue.
This includes employers in the SMB sector, employing over 800,000 staff or approximately 40 percent of the total workforce.
We’re inviting more small business operators to come forward and share their own equal pay story – or alternatively, start to take those crucial first steps to ensure they have their own equal pay story to share in the future.
As thought leadership is part of the solution here, we have collected up some of the most common themes that have come through from the Awards programme. These are from organisations that have effectively addressed wage equality and we believe most, if not all of these solutions can be easily adopted by smaller enterprises.
This will ensure SMBs are in a strong position to prove how fair they really are along with the rest of the business community; a message that is becoming increasingly important.
Women in leadership
When less women earn more and more women earn less, it’s no surprise gaping pay gaps form. As judges, we saw a real commitment from entrants to develop more women into leadership roles. To address the leadership imbalance, organisations develop a female talent pipeline, introducing a variety of policies and practices to nurture promising female talent.
For instance, the development of leadership or mentoring programmes. Setting new recruitment criteria, such as gender neutral job ad wording, getting other female staff involved in the interview process, fishing in other ponds to attract a more diverse range of candidates and ensuring female candidates are present on short lists.
Essentially, these employers got serious about navigating female staff into leadership roles, set targets and did whatever it took to ensure diversity was represented at the top table.
Parental leave packages
Many people argue that the sole reason the pay gap exists is because women take time out of their careers to have families. While research shows pay gaps are occurring long before this period in a woman’s career, it is still a contributing factor.
Progressive employers are working hard to reduce the financial penalty women experience at this time, often referred to as ‘the motherhood tax’.
If offering paid parental leave isn’t an option, there are still other affordable methods. It just takes a creative approach.
For instance, ensuring staff on parental leave still receive annual pay reviews. Consider a mother of three, taking a year’s leave for each child and missing out on a three to four percent pay review for each of those years, making her nine to 12 percent worse off compared to other colleagues.
Continuing with annual pay reviews is a low cost way to avoid those kinds of pay gaps forming.
Many companies keep up medical insurance subsidies during parental leave, offer training during this time and back-to-work integration programmes as well. Ensuring returning mums don’t have to accrue annual leave from scratch is another popular, low cost policy too.
All of these considered policies can be important gestures for small business, but will ensure staff return from parental leave and remain loyal.
Flexible work places
The implementation of flexible workplace policies and practices is a fast growing area. This not only makes you more attractive as an employer, it has a direct impact on the gender pay gap. Women who can better balance their job alongside family commitments don’t need to resort to lower paid, part time employment in order to meet these commitments.
These policies and practices aren’t just popular with females, the whole workforce benefits. ANZ, with a staff of approximately 9000 employees, has introduced All Flex Plus, which means every single role must be looked at to be flexible if requested. Small businesses will increasingly be expected by employees to provide this provision around workplace flexibility.
Unconscious bias training
Virtually all of the entrants in our Awards saw organisations engaging in conscious and unconscious bias training in some shape or form. Bias, whether intentional or not, is an everyday problem and most people have general beliefs about those who are different to themselves. But general judgements often become assumptions and that's where most prejudice comes from.
For instance, do you believe women are better in caring professions than men? Do you believe men are better engineers than women? Facing up to these assumptions demonstrates how inaccurate they are and training in this area challenges you and your team’s beliefs around gender in the workplace.
This training is particularly important for anyone who conducts staff reviews and makes decisions around who is promoted. Therefore, if that role isn’t just handled by the business owner, training should be extended to relevant managers. With affordable online training platforms available, there’s no reason why these measures can’t be introduced to your business.
If your team structure allows it, calibrated appraisal systems have been proven to work also. This means, more than one person has a say on how someone is reviewed or promoted. This is another proven measure to ensure fairness in the workplace.
It must come from the top
I’ve left the best for last. Please don’t wait for a member of staff to champion the equal pay cause in your business (by bringing the matter to you) or make yourself vulnerable to pay equity pay claims. Take the lead and prove how fair you really are by implementing gender inclusive policies and practices.
If you lack HR or remuneration expertise, check www.ywcaequalpay.org.nz for useful tools. Set targets and ensure reporting is in place to track progress.
I feel honoured as a judge of our Awards, to read inspiring entries from organisations that have reaped the benefits of their equal pay practices, well beyond expectation. They enjoy higher staff engagement, see more mothers returning from parental leave, enhance their reputations as an employer of choice and ultimately, enjoy more diversified decision-making leading the organisation.
It is a recipe for success and there is no reason why small businesses don’t stand to reap exactly the same benefits.