As publishing companies have reported on their gender pay gap over the past few weeks, the headline figures have prompted a range of responses. Shock and anger have been chief among them, followed closely by an unsurprising amount of confusion over how to read the data, with a healthy dose of cynicism thrown in for good measure. Least expected has been the amount of surprise; these results are not surprising at all given the current profile of the industry.
The headline mean/median gender pay gap calculation is, in my view, a horribly blunt way of making us examine an incredibly important issue. I welcome the initiative because of the honest and helpful conversation it has prompted. The evidence provided by this audit is rough, but it paints a picture we cannot ignore. It is the best we currently have, and it provides a starting point for action.
As part of their reporting, companies are now looking very carefully at their workforce composition, at whether the initiatives they have in place are the right ones and if they are targeted in the right places. For many, this work would have taken place with or without the need to report, but I have no doubt that having to publish a gender pay gap has brought with it renewed focus for some, or revealed something that others hadn’t entirely anticipated. This is a good thing.
However, there are a few things that have struck me as the reports have come in.
Firstly, differences in how companies have reported. Most of the large publishing companies are part of complex global business structures and this means that they have not all approached reporting in the same way. Some have reported for their whole business, some for one or more subsidiary businesses. This means that direct publisher to publisher comparisons are hard to make.
Secondly, there have been differences around what is included. We have seen that the figures will vary depending on whether they do or don’t include warehousing and distribution, for example. Issues such as this make any comparison of figures a challenge.
One thing that is shared across much of the reporting, in publishing and in many other sectors, is the significant dip in female roles in the upper quartile and at board level, and the impact this has on the gender pay gap. There are women such as myself who have been lucky to be employed in a good company where the right opportunities have come along; but luck isn’t enough. We need to have the structures in place to support women as well as men every step of the way. In my view, a focus now on training, mentoring and preparing women for more senior roles must go hand in hand with return to work and shared parental leave schemes already being discussed. For the gender pay gap, as well as so many other diversity gaps, to be properly addressed, we need to be able to promote the best people from a much, much wider pool, and to be more transparent about each step along the career ladder: how to reach it, and what the return is when you get there. Some progress has been made on this, but there is far more to do.
So, what should we do next? Beyond the reports they have produced, I know many publishers—my own company Hachette included—have made a significant effort to engage with their staff around the reporting, to listen to their concerns and to draw them into the action plans now being put together.
The Publishers Association will be working with the diversity and inclusion organisation Equal Approach to look at the data as part of its wider work on inclusivity and to recommend industry specific actions. We hope to work towards an action plan—across recruitment, flexible working, parental leave (and returners), as well as pay, reward and promotion—that the industry can sign up to, and that will help us bring about real change.
In his Leader column two weeks ago, The Bookseller editor Philip Jones observed that publishers are uniquely placed to address this challenge. I agree. We need to listen to the people this directly impacts—women who work in the industry. We need to use this moment to gather momentum, to really get to grips with the challenges and the possible solutions. Then, we need to work together to build a better and more inclusive industry.