Written by
Ruth Thomas
Senior Consultant and Co-Founder, CURO

05 March 2020

Sunday, March 8 is International Women’s Day. This year, CURO would like to propose a challenge to you: make one choice in the coming week that helps progress gender equality.

The theme of our challenge is drawn from a notion of 'Collective Individualism' and the belief that we are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society. Collectively, we can make change happen. Collectively, we can each help to create a gender equal world.

There is often nothing more individual than choice.

When it comes to actions, there is often nothing more individual than choice.  Life is a matter of choices. We make choices every day all day. And some of those choices can impact gender equality. In fact, the career choices women make significantly impact our ability to achieve a gender equal world. I’ve lost count of the number of (often male) commentators or experts qualifying that gender pay gaps do not exist, and that any differences in pay are simply a reflection of the choices women make in the workplace.

But are they really choices? Or are they simply a reflection of the options available to us?

For example, women “choose” to disrupt their careers and take time away from the workplace to bring up children.  When the reality is there is a lack of paid shared parental leave that allows women and men to share childcare responsibilities equally. As a result, women suffer a significant pay penalty on annual earnings. A Women’s Policy Research study found that women who took just one year off from work had annual earnings 39 percent less than women who worked all 15 years between 2001 and 2015.

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Women also (apparently) choose to take “easy” jobs that earn less so they can balance work and caring responsibilities. Again, this is more a reflection of lack of workplace flexibility. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) study highlighted that a gap in workplace exists. In the study, 96% of employees said they need flexibility, yet only 47% reported having access to the types of flexibility they need — a gap of 54%. This gap is even larger for women, as only 34% of women have access to the flexibility they need.

"Chalking the pay gap up to women's career choice is like blaming global warming on the polar bears."

HBR contributor Kim Elsesser addressed the issue of women’s forced choice in an article in which she concludes: “Chalking the pay gap up to women's career choice is like blaming global warming on the polar bears. In reality, it is unconscious bias that is the primary cause of the gender pay gap, not gender-based career choices.”

But there are other choices we all make in the workplace that are made across genders and across the talent lifecycle that have an impact on gender equality. When it comes to choosing a new staff member, promoting the right team member or allocating pay increases - unconscious bias influences our people decisions. While unconscious bias training has been discredited, there are a wealth of positive choices you can make to improve equality.

Choices that improve quality can include:

  • Ensuring balanced shortlists
  • Implementing blind screening and removing names (or other gender identifiers) from resumes when selecting candidates for interviews
  • Removing salaries from CV’s at hire and promotion to stop perpetuating pay gaps
  • Undertaking pay analytics to establish whether you do actually pay women less than men

In fact, by not taking positive actions these to promote a gender equality strategy - you are making more choices. You are choosing to overlook and undervalue key talent. And making choices that could damage your brand’s reputation and impact your bottom line.

So, if we are looking for 'Collective Individualism' on International Women’s Day, consider CURO’s International Women’s Day equal pay challenge to you. If we each made one positive choice this week at work that in its own small way progressed gender equality... Be it a new hire choice, a pay decision, a choice to ask for flexible working, a choice as a business leader to promote a gender equality strategy. Imagine the impact?



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