Tuesday 17 September 2019

John McGee: 'Gender pay gap exposes marketing industry and leaves plenty to be done'

Sandra Lawler, founder and director of Alternatives
Sandra Lawler, founder and director of Alternatives

John McGee

One hundred years ago, Irish women got the right to vote, albeit in somewhat limited circumstances and with a few caveats attached, including being over the age of 30, having a university education or possessing property rights.

While a lot has changed during the intervening 100 years, a lot remains to be done if Ireland is to call itself a truly fair and equitable society where everyone is treated equally, irrespective of gender, race, sexuality or religious beliefs. Unfortunately, and for many reasons, this is still not the case.

One of the key fronts on which the battle for greater equality is being fought is, of course, pay, a topic which hasn't strayed too far from the headlines in recent years and rightly so.

Across every industry in Ireland today, the gender pay gap that exists serves to remind us all of the many challenges we face and glaring anomalies that need to be addressed.

And yes, the marketing, advertising and media industries have a lot to do if the findings of a recent survey by Alternatives, the marketing talent and recruitment agency are anything to go by.

According to the survey, men working in marketing and advertising are generally better paid and receive more non-salary benefits at almost all levels than their female counterparts.

According to the survey, which was carried out in association with the Marketing Institute, Alternatives found that the pay differential increases as specific roles become more senior.

For example, a male director is likely to get €15,000 or 13pc more a year than a female director. For an average director's salary, based on Alternative's survey, this would mean that a male director gets €130,505 while a female director would get €115,558.

In addition, a male marketing director working in a large firm can expect to earn 7pc more than a female marketing director, according to Alternatives. This rises to 11pc for males working as sales and commercial directors. The only area where females are paid more than their male counterparts is mid-to-junior account management and general marketing roles.

The last time I checked, the calendar said it was 2018 and, as we hurtle towards 2019, it is clear that for many reasons - some complex, some not so complex - corporate Ireland still has a lot to learn.

"I don't think the gender pay gap is specific to marketing or worse for marketing," says Sandra Lawler, founder and director of Alternatives, pictured. "CSO figures show that, overall, women are paid 14pc less than men in Ireland today; Eurostat puts the differential for managers at 16pc. Our survey shows similar levels with male respondents getting paid 15pc more at director/head of level," she says.

"But marketing is a sector which has higher levels of female participation at management level than other functions, so we have significant figures to benchmark with," she adds.

While salary is obviously a very important part of the overall remuneration mix, additional benefits can make or break a deal when it comes to working for a particular company. Once again, men tend to fare better.

"Our survey showed that in marketing males get better benefits than females, with the biggest differentials in bonuses given relating to pensions, healthcare, share options and cars. Males got more annual leave and more got a salary increase in the last year. And that is difficult to justify on any level," says Lawler.

So how did we arrive at this ridiculous situation? According to Lawler, companies simply didn't pay enough attention to it in the past and they certainly never measured it. It's also quite possible that others simply weren't aware of it or didn't want to rock any boats. Others point to legacy issues which have yet to be addressed, an excuse which does more to obfuscate the matter than address it.

With draft legislation aimed at reducing the gender pay gap winging its way through the Oireachtas, however, companies really need to get their act together and with the threat of fines hanging over their heads, there is some hope.

But there are other reasons too, some of which will be trickier to address as they require major cultural shifts and a change in mind-set among employers and yes, men.

"In my view, there's an ongoing unconscious bias playing out in favour of men, where it's sometimes assumed, unconsciously, that men are simply just worth more than women. It's a societal thing. But it's there and both males and females need to be aware of it, so they can address it," Lawler adds.

She also says that now more women are aware of the gender pay gap, it's also incumbent on them to value themselves fully and to demand their worth. But also, the discussion needs to be kept alive until such a time that it's no longer an issue.

I, for one, certainly don't want to be writing about this when my 16-year-old daughter enters the workforce in six or seven years' time.

"We need to keep the focus on it. In society, in organisations, in schools and universities, amongst leaders and employees. Then we call it out, with facts. So, we measure it, report on it to the board as a fixed agenda item and for larger companies, we publish it annually. But don't just publish salaries, we must measure and publish all benefits too," says Lawler.

Is there a message in all of this for the CEOs, the boardrooms and HR departments of corporate Ireland? Yes, there is. Stop behaving like idiots, get over yourselves and your legacy issues and sort this ridiculous nonsense out once and for all. It's almost 2019.

Sunday Indo Business

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