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2016 has been a shocker of a year on the politico-econo-socio stage and it’s easy, especially in this unwelcome reality of Brexit-Trump-WTF-is-coming-next to feel that there’s nothing we can do to improve matters.

But on this day, when people across the UK mobilised to voice their support for Equal Pay, I think of all of the complex issues surrounding the Gender Pay Gap. Depending on which analysis you read, parity won’t become a reality until somewhere between 60–120 years from now (60 for the UK; 117 for the world). That’s too long. I don’t want my seven year old daughter to be a grandmother before Equal Pay is achieved.

What are the issues propagating the Gender Pay Gap?

  • Limited opportunity for fulfilling, well-paid part-time work
  • Lack of workable flexibility (zero hours contracts are a kind of flexibility that only favours employers)
  • Child-rearing responsibilities unfairly fall on women’s shoulders
  • Cost of childcare inhibits women’s return to work
  • Other caring responsibilities are usually carried out by women e.g. caring for elderly parents
  • Issues of social mobility and access to opportunities

What can a small company do to have an impact on the issue?

At Made by Many, two of the top five earners are women. And as a rule of thumb, there is zero gender discrimination when it comes to awarding pay grades to people doing the same job. So our house is in order when it comes to Unequal Pay, but that isn’t the same as the Gender Pay Gap. And even as a small business, there are things we can do to begin addressing this situation.

With negligible cost compared to the benefit of keeping talented people working, employers for instance can offer flexible working hours: later starts, early finishes, remote-working, job shares or even term-time working (probably the hardest one to accommodate for a SME). We are fortunate to have have most of these options available at Made by Many.

Employers, even SMEs, can offer retraining. It takes an average of 28 weeks for a new hire to become productive, so retraining existing staff not only demonstrates an employer’s commitment to nurturing talent, it can also be hugely motivating for the person and on top of that, it makes good commercial sense. Over the nine years Made by Many’s been around, we’ve never constrained people by job roles and this enables numerous opportunities to develop new skills.

Levelling the playing field

For workers navigating the job market, there are numerous opportunities created by the digital age. The trouble is, in 2016 they’re not necessarily very well understood by the majority of people, and certainly not by schools and colleges. Anyone who works in our field who’s tried to explain what they do for a job to their granny/uncle/dad knows what I’m talking about.

The net effect of this is that children are leaving school with little or no preparation for the world of work and must rapidly sink or swim as they feverishly teach themselves all they can via Youtube, Udacity and whatever else they can find on the web. And for women (or others who’ve taken a career break) looking to return to the workplace, awareness of the opportunities available is likely to be low.

For example, a colleague posited an interesting idea to our #EqualPayDay collective this afternoon: coding is ideally suited to job-shares or part-time work, for the following reasons:

  • there’s more demand for code than there are people to write it (well) and that’s not going to slow down any time soon
  • coding is best tackled in delineated chunks of time
  • the more people contributing to a code base, the better
  • coding and remote working are highly compatible

In our multi-disciplinary teams, we have designers, programmers, product managers and strategists working together to equip client businesses for the 21st century. Transferable skills such as successful team-working, planning, negotiation, active listening, collaboration and empathy are all essential to the work we do. And many women have these capabilities in spades. They may not have applied them in the digital field, but they could sure as hell learn pretty quickly how to do that.

Access to opportunity, knowing what skills you need to get ahead, developing work-ready capabilities, realising what opportunities exist in the digital age — these are all things that contribute to a person’s ability to take their place in the workforce and progress.

Giving our robot overlords a warm, human hug

I really want to believe that even though many of our jobs will be done by robots in the future, it’s entirely feasible that a myriad other jobs will spring up that require us to be human, that play to our strengths as expressive, emotional, sentient beings. That in the age of our new robot overlords, finally the weight of Emotional Labour will be recognised as having extraordinary value and rewarded accordingly.

And I want to believe (and engender) the facility for people to access opportunities in digital. We recently hosted a team of students from Creativity Works, not all of whom have followed a formal education path. Several of The Many have not followed the Higher Education route either and they are as successful as their peers. I’m not saying that there is no value in Higher Education, but I am advocating alternative routes. And whilst acknowledging that access to devices is still not universal, even in the UK, there is nonetheless merit in digital-literate businesses working with schools, job centres, outreach programmes, social mobility and employment access initiatives.

As employers and as a digitally-enabled society, we have to recognise that if people are going to forge their own path, there are structures and things we can do to give them a guiding hand. Staring down the barrel of 2016, I look forward to 2017 being a year that sees our smart, cognitive surplus being applied not to collecting species on Pokémon GO but to taking any steps we can, no matter how small, towards making a positive impact on the Gender Pay Gap. Can you grab that, Donald Trump?

Charlotte Hillenbrand

Charlotte Hillenbrand

Charlotte heads up Learning and Development at Made by Many. She is interested in Learning Organisations and the role they play in digital transformation, growing talent and happiness at work. She's responsible for delivering our Professional Development programme and learning initiatives.

With a digital career as old as Youtube, Charlotte has worked with clients from the media, entertainment, culture, sport, automotive, FMCG and charity sectors. Previously, she worked in book publishing and the business behind product design and repackaging.

In real life, she bears no resemblance to Charles II but she does have big hair.

@crashtherocks

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