WHEN it comes to gender equality, industry leaders sing from the same hymn sheet.
Everybody, it seems, is committed to taking bold action to tackle the gender pay gap and do battle with the forces of sexism.
Every major corporate name on the planet appears to have high minded mission statements about the need to ensure women have the chance to achieve their potential and take home earnings that recognise their real worth.
The big corporates may love to sing from the same sheet of music, but their notes are falling horribly flat. The grim reality is that many women are marginalised, under paid and undervalued.
Vast expanses of the corporate world are male, pale and stale. When it comes to big hiring decisions, middle aged men, in general, hire younger versions of themselves. I could choose any one of a large number of sectors to illustrate this point.
But the legal profession offers a useful example. Every year, roughly the same number of men and women enter the sector. In an ideal world, every entrant’s prospects for advancement would only be limited by their abilities. But something goes badly wrong for most women during the career journey from trainee to partner.
In 2017, women made up 59 per cent of non-partner solicitors compared with just 33 per cent of partners, according to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The difference is greater still in the largest firms (50 plus partners), where just 29 per cent of partners are female. Anyone demanding revolutionary change in the leadership of the legal sector is likely to die feeling disappointed.
A study conducted by the BBC also found worrying signs that gender inequality is actually getting worse in some areas, despite the pious protestations of business leaders.
Four in 10 private companies that have published their latest gender pay gap are reporting wider gaps than they did last year, according to BBC analysis.
The BBC looked at a company’s median pay gap, which is the difference in pay between the middle-ranking woman and the middle-ranking man. Only about 10 per cent of employers have reported their latest figures so far, ahead of the April 4 deadline for the private sector.
Griselda Togobo, the owner and managing director of Forward Ladies, the business support network for women in business, is not surprised by these figures.
She said: “This is evidence of the disconnect between what leaders are saying and what they are actually doing to improve gender balance in their companies.
She added: “In order to see real change and improvement in the pay and representation of women in all tiers of corporate UK, companies need to back up their words with action. “
According to Ms Togobo, 74 per cent of companies are still reporting a pay gap which favours men which is “truly unacceptable “ in 2019.
Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, the charity which campaigns for gender equality, believes employers must be forced to publish action plans and be held to account.
She added: “We also need to address all the causes of the pay gap and provide real transparency with pay data so that women can challenge pay discrimination.”
Gina Miller, the business woman and philanthropist, told me: “There has been very little infrastructure change that allows women to come into the workplace. Even when it is there, it’s at entry level or the top level. It’s not at that middle level where women need to step up for the next senior management position.
“There’s this huge push to encourage women into the workplace, but then you have to be seen to be at your post. There’s very little flexible working. It’s not about quality of delivery, it’s about presence. Those sorts of measures really hold us back.”
Today, the size of the pay gap suggests that many capable women are stuck at a level of pay and influence which does not reflect their true value. We need to redefine the nature of leadership and place the emphasis on collaboration and flexible working.
Only then will we stop this terrible waste of human potential.