When Carrie Gracie’s open letter to her employers at the BBC was published, did anyone expect it to be embraced as the template for equal pay in Britain’s corporate culture? Possibly, but there were enough dismissive voices around to suggest it could be a flash in the pan media moment, rather than something more profound.
But yesterday’s ‘expose’ of the Presidents Club’s Charity Dinner by the FT feels like a watershed moment. Why? Because it was the Financial Times, seen as the bastion of the corporate and financial establishment, doing the exposing.
“Disappointed the FT has become a tabloid. What was my favourite newspaper is becoming a clickbait dealer.” – FT reader comment
But should anyone be surprised? The FT often holds a mirror up to the industry and asks ‘is this good enough?’ Gender equality is an issue that the paper has been gathering steam on for some time*. Any organisation hoping to hide in the throng of businesses publishing their UK Government-mandated gender pay equality data at the very last possible moment should take note of the FT's scrutiny of the results published so far. It suggests that its team is prepared to put the hours in to expose and question any organisation hoping to fudge or hide figures that show them in a poor light. The FT, it seems, believes that #TimesUp for organisations to treat gender equality in senior roles as anything other than a serious corporate issue.
With so few organisations publishing gender pay data thus far it seems that the rush will come close to the April deadline in with the hope that within the herd there will be less incentive to single their organisation out. For others, where preaching may not be reflected (yet) by practice, it is likely that time is being taken to prepare for scrutiny. But will shareholders really care?
The thing about movements is that they are messy as they unfold, neater and contextualised with hindsight. #MeToo didn’t start this movement, it has been simmering away in the background for some time. See #everydaysexism for instance. But it did propel it from background noise to collective imagination. When that happens a step-change in social awareness and cultural shifts tend to follow. The FT's expose is an indication of that. Another is its scrutiny of the gender pay gap.
No-one is expecting the publication of this data to show anything other than what is already known - that men generally hold more senior positions and tend to be paid more than women. What is different is the context in which this data is being published. Regardless of your private view of the #TimesUp movement, the collective social consciousness is questioning how right it is that there is gender pay discrepancy and how this, in turn, reflects on the suitability of different corporate cultures and leaders.
If January has shown Woody Allen, Aziz Ansari, the attendees of the Presidents Club Charity Dinner and onlookers anything, it is that there is a point where there is such a thing as bad publicity - where negativity can become unmanageable and people must disassociate or risk tarnishing their own reputations. The absence of women in top positions and the gender pay gap will for many echo the concerns voiced around the attitudes displayed at the President Club Charity Dinner, and that is an association Boards should be at pains to distance themselves from.”
(*If you are interested type “gender pay” in to search and scroll through the many pages of content.)