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Our Head of Legal Ruth Lyndon discusses the gender pay and promotion gap in Ireland.

It is Sunday afternoon. Following a trek through the snow (yes, snow, in March) to get the Sunday papers, I am cosy on the couch in front of a roaring fire with a drying dog at my feet and my Sunday Times sports section-engrossed husband to my right. As part of my own personal Sunday Times ritual, I go straight to Style magazine. However before I get to the end of this week’s fashion fix, an article has caught my attention and prompted me to pull out the Mac and start typing. This does not happen very often.

Blogs I write and post on my LinkedIn profile tend to be legal industry and/or recruitment related given my role as Head of Legal at Azon Recruitment Group and as a qualified solicitor.  On the one hand, this blog doesn’t fall neatly into either of those categories. However, it doesn’t need to. In fact, it transcends any “category “ because this is a topic which should matter at all levels, across all sectors and to all who truly believe in an equitable, meritocratic society regardless of gender.

A New Gap?

The gender pay gap. That I have heard of given the justified attention it has received in media headlines over recent months. Thankfully, the noise has resulted in some real developments.

In 2017, the UK introduced gender pay gap reporting requirements for companies with 250 or more employees with the 4 April 2018 deadline fast approaching. Closer to home, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017 is an attempt to reduce the existing pay gap of 13.9% between men and women in Ireland by giving the Commission powers to require employers with 50 or more employees to report on the gender pay gap in their business. The Bill passed the Seanad Committee Stage in October 2017 and is currently awaiting Report stage. And earlier this year, Iceland was the first country to make it illegal for men to be paid more than women for companies and government agencies with more than 25 employees.

But a promotion gap? Whilst not a new phenomenon, this week’s Sunday Times Style magazine article entitled “Are you Falling into the Promotion Gap?” is the first time I have seen reference to a promotion gap akin to the gender pay gap.  And it does not make for a pretty read.

According to the author of this article, Rosamund Urwin, women are promoted based on performance, but men are promoted based on potential a.k.a. the promotion gap. And it is simply not fair.

Not Cool

  • The author quotes Allyson Zimmerman, the executive director of Catalyst, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes women in business who states that “our research shows that women are being promoted based on performance, while men are being promoted based on potential. Women are being held to a higher standard”.
  • Ms Urwin states that this is a line she has heard on repeat during her 10 years of writing on gender in business – that women have to be twice as good to get half the credit.
  • A 2016 McKinsey study found that 67% of men and 68% of women wanted to climb up the career ladder. Yet according to another study by the Chartered Management Institute, men are 40% more likely than their female colleagues to be promoted into management roles. Not very inspiring.
  • Fewer than one in five senior roles in business are held by women, according to research by the accountancy firm Grant Thornton.

So what can Companies do?

  • Brenda Trenowden, global chair of the 30% Club, which campaigns for greater representation of women on boards of FTSE 100 companies, suggests that “companies should look at ensuring proportional promotions. If graduate intake is 50:50, the first level of promotion should be 50:50 too”.
  • Companies should also encourage women to put themselves forward. Ms Urwin’s article gives Google as an example of an employer who sent emails to “nudge” women to put themselves forward before promotion reviews. It had the desired effect. However, when they forgot to send the same email, the number of women asking for promotions plunged. Coincidence? I think not.

So what can we do?

Burning our bras will of course always remain an option. However, and taking a quick glance at the snow falling outside, I think some of Ms Urwin’s tips sound like a more practical, impactful way of “minding the gap”:

  • “Be Your Biggest Cheerleader” i.e. women should speak up and promote their successes to their bosses. No more sitting quietly in the corner.

The directorship of my current employer, a relatively young four-year old company, is presently male dominated. However I believe this to be by default rather than intentional design.

Refreshingly, this is something which my boss and CEO acknowledged and confirmed as a point to address during our initial discussions before I joined the company. This stated desire for a more diverse board of directors, and recognition of the benefits this will ultimately bring to the continued growth and development of the company, was one of the deciding factors for me in joining the Azon team.

One of my current goals is to earn a place at the board table. Not because I am a woman, but because of the calibre of the work, commitment and dedication I have demonstrated to date and the future potential my employer identifies in me.

  • “Find a Sponsor”: Wow, the universe works in very mysterious ways. Just yesterday, I was looking into the 30% Club Sponsorship Programme having read an article about it. Essentially, the 30% Club mentoring scheme, developed with the support of EY and now delivered by Women Ahead, offers cross-company, cross-sector mentoring to women at every layer of the career pyramid. Having someone in a senior position to act in a mentor capacity and share their experiences, warts and all, can only be a positive thing. Sign me up.
  • “Grow a Rhino Hide”: i.e. not everyone is always going to like you but that’s ok.

This one made me laugh. I hate to admit it but this is one area where I think the male species has a distinct advantage over its female counterparts. Men just don’t seem to care what other people think of them or re-play conversations and scenes in their heads to the extent that us women do. Gents, it really is hard being a lady sometimes.

This, together with not having to queue for port-a-loos at concerts, are two reasons why sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I was a boy. Whilst there is not much I can do about the need to queue for toilets (mother nature decided that one), I can work on growing my rhino hide.

  • “Stop Fearing Failure”: This speaks for itself and also reminds me of a superb book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Dr. Susan Jeffers. Now where did I put my dog-eared copy? Time for a re-read I think.

In general, I believe that women and men are inherently different but this is ultimately a good thing.  For example, it allows us to learn and appreciate different ways to approach and solve problems or issues and different ways to develop and improve ourselves.

However, I also believe that women and men have equally valuable skills, experiences and view-points to bring to the work table and that employers should value these in a fair and equal fashion, regardless of the owner’s sex.

I further believe that not only should women and men receive equal pay for equal work , they should also be assessed for promotion against equal criteria and metrics which are free of any bias or discrimination, conscious or unconscious.

Closing the gap, be it gender pay or promotion related, is not going to happen over-night. However, I strongly feel that by educating companies, employers and employees on the existence of these gaps and by discussing these issues both in the workplace and in public forums, further positive action will happen. We are all playing on the same field, let’s make sure it’s level.

~Ruth Lyndon Head of Legal at AzonRuth Lyndon is a Funds Lawyer and leads Azon’s Legal Division.
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