Tackling Pay Equality in Public Relations

by Lucy Ndlovu

Back in July this year, the BBC published a list of ninety-six top earners revealing a gender pay gap between their male and female employees.  This process opened up a Pandora’s box of all sort of claims around sex discrimination, inequality, and lack of representation of the female employees in senior positions evidently only a third made it to the top earner’s list. Soon after an open letter was sent to the  BBC director general Tony Hall from senior women in the company, they stated that the pay disparity had existed for years and that he should ‘ act on it now’.  In response, the director said that he is committed to closing the pay gap by  2020 and that the report is being independently audited to look at any discrepancies that exist.

pr dicesThe Pay Gap disparity is not just confined to the BBC or the media industry as highlighted in the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR )State of the Profession2017 report.  In the report, Pay discrepancies between genders in the Public Relations (PR) Profession was listed as one of the Key findings that the profession is actively trying to tackle. According to the report, gender remains the third largest influence on salary behind years in the profession and seniority. The report also mentions a pay ceiling that exists in senior roles making it difficult for women to reach the best-paid jobs.

As noted in the report two-thirds of the workforce in PR are female, and the Gender ratio is 61% female – 39% male. This is a highly skilled profession, where the majority of the employees are graduates with high-level skills like strategic planning, communication expertise, leadership, and marketing skills,  an indication that skills and the ability to do the job are not the issues here instead, it is about  inequality and lack of diversity as pointed out in the report.

Casually dressed female colleagues talking in a meeting room
Source: Getty Images

What impact does Gender pay disparity have in an organisation? This is an under-researched issue, partly because of the known stigma around discussing salaries , however it can be assumed- using the BBC as a case study, that  staff morale, motivation or even the ability to contribute to the performance of the company  which are key  factors in the  success of an organisation can be greatly affected. Pay is a chief factor in any organisation. PR just like any other profession is faced with challenges in recruiting talent and retaining staff not addressing this issue can lead to staff leaving with their expertise, knowledge, and skills.

There are several factors that have influenced the pay disparity in PR and these have been identified in the report as Company/Agency Culture, Stigma in discussing salaries, lack of transparency  Unconscious bias.

 A change is coming…

In order to address this issue, a ‘PR and Pay Equality’  report was published in March 2017 by CIPR and Women in PR(WIPR) which looked to address and to deliver an action plan to tackle gender pay disparity. The research was done on twenty senior female PR professional and aimed to address the issue using their experiences in the profession. The report offered a seven-point action plan that would be helpful and useful to tackle gender pay bias for employers and for the wider profession.

The seven-point action plan involves;

  • Introduction of salary bandings
  • Leadership training( for both sexes to redress behavioral issues )
  • Mentoring and role models ( senior women mentoring and sponsoring younger women)
  • Gender equality networks to include men and promote equality
  • Government Reporting

In addition, a new Government legislation that will come into effect in April 2018 will require all employers more than with 250  employees to publish their salaries and report on their gender pay gaps. Most of the PR Firms may not meet this requirement but by voluntarily disclosing pay details can lead to transparency and openness in the profession, and that will offer flexibility and progression for all employees.

A Brighter outlook

To close the pay disparity gap once and for all involves the fair treatment of all employees and actively tackling inequality drivers that have led the profession to this state. It is likely that gender pay bias will be eroded with time, but there is a need for more action and more changes to be adopted in the current climate.

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