Use Sponsorship to erode the gender pay gap

Gender Pay GapThe economic gap between men and women is forecast to disappear by 2186. So financial gender inequality will be with us for an awfully long time yet! As part of our blog series for #iwd2019, Lis Merrick considers the current gender pay gap situation and gives two top tips for using sponsorship mentoring to remedy this situation.

She will recommend some fundamental changes that need to be made in the workplace and society to expedite more equality. But also offer a couple of suggestions that any organisation, which is serious about tackling gender inequality and the gender pay gap, can implement straight away.

The BBC reported analysis in Feb 2019 that four in ten private companies, who had just published their latest gender pay gap, reported wider gaps than they did the previous year. This is with only about 10% of employers submitting figures, ahead of the 4th April deadline for the private sector. Of the companies who had reported by 19th February 2019:

74% reported a pay gap, which favours men. 14% have a pay gap favouring women and 12% have no pay gap. Some of the banks are particularly performing badly. The average gender pay gap at RBS being 36.8% and Lloyds 32.8%.

So what needs to happen to address the gender pay gap?

1. Societal and culture change

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which enforces the gender pay gap rules in the UK, said that forcing companies to report their pay gaps was not enough to eliminate pay disparities. So we need to make deep and profound change to make things different to both erode the gender pay gap and reduce gender inequality overall.

The Women’s Empowerment Principles, established in 2010 between the UN Women and UN Global Compact begins with a call to: ‘establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality’. However, there is little visible corporate leadership evident. This would make an enormous difference if more leaders paid less lip service and really made time for putting this on their corporate agendas.

Some of the things that need to happen in my view, include:

  • A genuine commitment to bringing about a permanent shift in organisational and societal culture of inclusion (and this is not just for gender). Aim to raise awareness from the very top of an organisation to the bottom. The CMI ‘A Blueprint for Balance’ report January 2018 highlights the gap between rhetoric and reality in many organisations, with female managers continuing to experience everyday sexism and bias. They suggest line managers are key to changing behaviour and creating change. The report found that only 19% of junior and middle managers regard their senior leaders as being committed to gender balance. In fact senior leaders are the tier of management least likely themselves to describe gender as a priority (42%).
  • Developing HR policies and processes that recognised the differences between the career lifecycles of men and women. They are not the same. Men and women need different talent strategies and support. HR and L&D need to wake up to this and address this properly.
  • Create accountability — Measuring gender diversity so that talent pools, leadership teams, career mobility, leadership development, are all considered quantitatively and qualitatively. Diversity and inclusion is part of performance management. You need to link financial rewards and consequences to behaviours and delivery of targets.
  • Changing our language, we are still so masculine in the way we describe our workforce.

2. Sponsorship and mentoring as an intervention for change

Although overt discrimination has been much reduced, the real challenge is now ‘second generation bias’. These are behaviours demonstrated in organisations, which flow from basic assumptions about working life or about the qualities required to succeed in leadership, which reflect masculine values and men’s life situations.

Of all the interventions available, I believe mentoring and sponsorship can be the most powerful and quickest in influencing this ‘second generation bias’.

There is still much confusion about what the difference is between the two. Most sponsorship still tends to be informal and underground. Sponsorship provides very active support for a woman by advocating for her, protecting and sometimes fighting for her career advancement. Effective sponsors, proactively expose their female protégé to other senior leaders in powerful positions. They work to identify more challenging strategic assignments for them and help to place them in critical posts.

Lack of mentoring in the early stages of a woman’s career is a key factor in the gender pay gap. However, if mentoring is not used wisely, women can feel ‘over-mentored’ and not gain real tangible benefits from it. The most successful mentoring interventions tend to be when women have mentors who not only provide developmental mentoring support but can also bring feedback and some sponsorship to the relationship. So mentors with clout, who have a seat at the decision-making table, are most useful as a real sponsor. When identifying mentors for women, the most obvious candidates are often senior female colleagues. However, it is often male mentors, who are more likely to have those crucial decision-making roles that allow them to also add value as mentors or sponsors.

Two top tips to tackle gender inequality

So here are my two top tips when designing programmes for women, to help to change financial gender inequality:

  1. Consider a hybrid sponsor/mentor role — define this carefully. Our approach to  talent mentoring tends to naturally adopt some of the softer characteristics of sponsorship. This can give the woman more tangible support than a mentor would provide. It also creates a context where the sponsor/mentor gains more understanding of the issues the woman is facing around pay, promotion, career opportunities etc
  2. And choose sponsor/mentors, whether they are male or female, who have some influence in the organisation. That way they can really actively support their mentee.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this? So please do get in touch if you would like to discuss sponsoring or mentoring women.

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