Community Conversation revisits gender pay parity

Mercer CEO Tamara Parker led the discussion, saying salary transparency was the best way to correct pay disparity.

In this week's CHRO Community Conversation, which was hosted in partnership with Workday, HR leaders discussed the age-old topic of gender pay parity. Mercer South Africa CEO Tamara Parker led the discussion and started by touching on the findings of Mercer’s “When Women Thrive” survey. Mercer recently sought the views of senior HR and business leaders from more than 1,150 companies in 54 countries, representing over seven million employees worldwide on issues including gender equity, accountability, leadership engagement and pay equity.

Among many of those findings, Tamara said 82 percent of respondents in sub-Saharan Africas said pay equity was part of their organisation’s compensation philosophy or strategy (compared to 74 percent globally). Meanwhile, 79 percent set formal quantitative D&I goals or targets for D&I outcomes (compared to only 50 precent globally), and 76 percent of organisations say senior executives are actively involved/engaged in D&I programmes and initiatives (compared to 66 percent globally).

“When people are starting their careers, it's very easy to figure out gender equity. Coming out of university, men and women are paid at the same level, generally. But as they move up the career ladder, it becomes apparent that men are progressing faster than women,” said Tamara. “The reason is that women leave the workforce to have children and take care of elderly parents. Another factor is that women don't apply for those management roles because they feel that the workload will detract from their caregiving responsibilities.”

Tarmara also referred to a recent study by Zurich Insurance, which was carried out in conjunction with the UK government, where they advertised all management positions as part-time, job share and flexible work – and there was a 20 percent increase in the number of women that applied for those jobs. This, she said, painted a clear picture of some of the issues that needed to be looked at in order to ensure that gender parity is a reality throughout all levels of an organisation and not just at the lower levels

She explained that the pay parity problem is a result of legacy issues because, in many new workforces, there was a tendency towards parity. The extreme outliers that still exist and are making the transition to equity more difficult because it’s far more difficult to correct disparity by way of reducing people’s salaries after they have long been benefiting from inequitable pay distribution.

Transparency the way forward

That said, Tamara highlighted how salary transparency was a good approach for helping companies become more equitable in the first place as that would shine a light on existing wage pay gaps. While still considered relatively taboo in South Africa, being transparent about salaries negates unconscious biases and allows all employees to negotiate on a fair footing.

Tamara admits that this is far easier said than done, but advised HR leaders in attendance that they did not have to have all the answers on how best to correct pay disparity within the organisation.

Said Tamara: “You can be transparent by saying to the organisation that, ‘We’ve got a problem. We are working towards pay equity and we want to bring everyone along on our journey. However, these are the kinds of outliers we have and this is where we are meeting criteria in the sense that people are in the correct salary bands.’ Then you tell your people how you plan to address the issue. I feel that, if you do that, you will get significant buy-in from employees even if you are a long way from achieving your objectives.”

Mondelēz International HR director for sub-Saharan Africa Cebile Xulu said they had been doing exactly that. The organisation has introduced a bit of transparency, not to the extent that people can see each other's salaries, “but we've made sure people know the value that the organisation places on each role in the sense that we attach salary scales and indicate where an individual sits within a band depending on their tenure, experience and so forth.”

What’s made the journey easier for Cebile and the group HR function overall is that Mondelēz International has applied its values to the different aspects of its people strategy and fairness is one of those values. Cebile said that this was one of the reasons she had stayed in the organisation as long she had.

“The environment resonates with my own beliefs and values. I don’t have to have arguments with anyone about paying people fairly or employees being paid below the minimum wage or people paid less than others on the basis of their race and gender. We don’t have those kinds of conversations at Mondelēz and that’s a reflection of the values that the business has embedded in the leadership,” said Cebile.

Starts at the top

Hesto HR director Sinqobile Khuluse said the evening’s topic was a sensitive one for her as an HR leader in the manufacturing sector where women in top leadership are so underrepresented. She said the discussion about gender pay parity starts with top management. Beyond pay parity, she said all elements of Diversity and Inclusion strategies and implementation must be very deliberate

We must unpack why there are so few women sitting on Boards. Pay discussions are often highly contentious, I mean it's not easy to start a conversation about what someone is earning in comparison to others,” she said. “Not too long ago, during the lockdown, I read an article about gender pay parity in which the author stated that men earn more because men ask for more. That's something we also need to discuss and have active conversations about standing up for each other as women. I don’t know how true that is, but the numbers don’t suggest otherwise."

Sinqobile said that women in top leadership positions would do well to assist the cause by mentoring other women to also rise through the ranks.

“I strongly believe that when you get to the top, you must not forget to send the lift back down for others,” she said

Exxaro executive head of HR Vanisha Balgobind said the conversation about gender pay parity was an extremely important one because, despite all the research that had been done around the subject, "the needle hasn't really moved much. And I think the reason is that the problem we should be focusing on should be around the culture of organisations on not just pay parity specifically."

According to a 2019 study by the World Economic Forum, global gender pay parity is an endeavour that will take 100 years to achieve. Add to that the view that the pandemic will widen the gender pay gap – because Covid-19 has ravaged in-person service jobs in restaurants, hotels and retail outlets, for example, which are disproportionately done by women – and it is clear that there is a serious cause for concern regarding gender equality in the workplace.