Last Friday was Equal Pay Day. To mark it, we created a campaign for the Women’s Equality Party that encouraged people to switch on their out of office, with the message; ‘I’m Out of Office. For the rest of the year’. For a campaign with no paid media, it made a huge impact in a very short space of time, with coverage across industry publications, the Huffington Post, the BBC, the Evening Standard, and the Sun, as well as catching the attention of some influential commentators and campaigning organisations.
Women took real pride in being part of the campaign, or part of an organisation that supported it:
We heard great stories about people inventing excuses to email as many people as they could to spread the message, and those that didn’t feel able to take part, were full of admiration for those who did:
An unexpected but interesting consequence of the campaign is what it taught us about our industry and how we respond to stuff like this. There’s a wealth of research that identifies SMEs as the driving force of innovation, progress and change. It was gratifying to see many SMEs live up to this reputation, with their founders and leaders not only getting behind the campaign personally, but encouraging their whole organisations to follow suit.
But too often the response from people in large corporates was a wall of silence:
"You won't be surprised to hear that I sent it to the powers that be in our office and never heard another word"
A litany of excuses:
"What will our clients think?"
"We’re doing our own thing for Equal Pay Day"
Or a fear that the issue was simply too sensitive:
"I think I would either be marched straight to HR or fired on the spot."
So perhaps the biggest thanks should be reserved for all those people working in corporates who felt liberated enough and brave enough to risk the consequences and took part anyway. As one woman put it:
‘F**k em. They’ll have to fess up to the problem next year, so what’s the harm in drawing attention to it now?’
Turning on your Out of Office to draw attention to the issue is one thing, but there’s a lot we can do to create substantive change. Here’s my top five:
Find out if you have a pay gap problem (or, more likely, how bad it is). If you work in a corporate, someone should already be doing this, but if you’re a SME, it’s still worth doing the maths to understand the nature of the problem. There are even some step by step instructions here.
Publish your pay gap stats, and yes, ‘be damned’. Because being open and transparent about our shortcomings is a very good way to focus the mind on doing something about them…
Make sure every recruitment shortlist you draw up includes a woman. It doesn’t mean you have to hire her, but at least you’re giving yourself the chance of doing so.
Create a flexible working culture. Not a one size fits all policy, but the permission for women (and men) to make the arrangements that suit them, their job role and their team.
And finally, do something to encourage the use of shared parental leave so both parents have the opportunity to spend proper time with their newborn and keep their careers on track.
It will take years to close the pay gap, but if we all do all of the above and more, we might just be able to nudge Equal Pay Day 2018 slightly further towards the end of the year. And whenever it falls, let’s hope industry attitudes have shifted sufficiently to let more of us feel able to show our solidarity and support by being #OutOfOffice.