Behind the Creative: Gender pay transparency
With the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment passing the Australian Parliament, companies with 100 or more workers will be required to report on the gender pay gap at their business from early 2024. While some businesses may feel exposed reporting this information, Gender Intelligence expert Bec Brideson, believes gathering and reporting this information is a help, rather than a hindrance for businesses (keep reading for her explanation!).
We chatted with Bec more about gender pay transparency, the creative industry and gender equality and how to go about minimising the pay gap at your workplace if you’re a business not impacted by the bill. So if you’re keen on learning about how your business can navigate gender pay transparency and create a positive change, this is a can’t miss chat.
Bec, tell us a bit about yourself and your background
I studied at Monash Uni and did a Bachelor of Arts with a design and communication specialisation, and in my final year, I did AWARD School. I worked at creative agencies Sydney, Melbourne and New Zealand, where I got to work alongside some fantastic leaders and learn the ins and outs of building and running a business.
In 2004, I started my own agency – and there aren’t that many women who start their own ad agency, especially back then. If you look at Madison Avenue, I don’t think there’s one ad agency with a female’s name on the door. I ran it from 2004 until Covid hit, as throughout that time, a lot of our clients, who we were working with on a project basis, went into a quiet phase.
In my last few years of running my agency, I wrote a book about the power of the female economy and started doing some consulting work and keynote speaking around gender intelligence and how gender equality benefits businesses. In February this year, I launched a consultancy, Brideson Bennett Co with another woman – who is actually the daughter of my mentor – that focuses on gender intelligence.
You call yourself a Gender Intelligence expert – what exactly is Gender Intelligence?
Gender Intelligence is being able to understand, recognise, and value the differences between men and women. What has happened on the journey with gender equality is people have thought in order to be fair, we need to stop seeing gender. In some research, this resulted in the researchers de-identifying (removing) gender, so in the data coming through, you wouldn’t know the breakdown of male or female. That led to a lack of knowledge or granularity in understanding the customer or business. I know now that there’s been a swing back to it in recent years, and research now includes all of the options including non-binary or how people choose to identify their gender.
When you disaggregate gender, that is where you can see difference, nuance and provide a service or product that adapts to meet the different needs of genders. It’s not a political or gender debate on who is better or whose needs we should address more, it’s to better understand and deliver what your customer or your audience wants, in the way they want that.
What is gender pay transparency and why is it important?
There are many reasons it’s important, but being able to openly share that information about pay discrepancy is so much better for the organisation. The transparency helps the company or business identify where those inequalities are and look at a way to provide more fair practices in compensation and a more inclusive working environment.
If you take the idea of pay transparency and run that logic through to the point of purchase – women often get hit by the pink tax, being charged more for certain items (like razors for instance), however they earn less than men. So why shouldn’t we charge men more for items because they get paid more than women? It’s the same principle at work. We’re doing the same job and performing the same job and if we are all meeting our KPIs, why shouldn’t we be given the same amount of pay?
The Workplace Gender Equality Amendment Bill passed the Australian Parliament. We know what it means for businesses, but what does this mean for employees?
Employees will be more likely to want to work in organisations where they’ve acknowledged there is a disparity and are doing something about it. Businesses will attract better talent, which leads to a better culture for employees. Fair and transparent hiring may also mean that more women may apply for certain roles that women aren’t traditionally hired in.
Having the knowledge that your employer is interested in correcting pay gaps fosters positivity internally, and the net effect of that is that companies that have more diverse people, particularly at a board and executive level, perform better financially.
What are the benefits of gender pay transparency for employees and businesses?
As I’ve just mentioned, you’ll attract better talent if you’re known to be a business that has measured, addressed and acted upon that pay gap. It also removes some of the politics and resentment from within the agency culture. Often when there is that disparity, there might be cliques that form within an agency that are based upon this perception of power, that may have come from the fact that you’re being paid a certain level. It helps develop a healthier allround culture and improve trust and morale issues.
Employees are what makes a business successful, so a better culture and morale helps with staff retention. From a business perspective, that means the knowledge and consistency employees bring to work and the relationships they’ve built with clients all remains at your business. Treat people equally and they’ll stay longer.
What is a big challenge or concern that organisations face when considering gender pay transparency? How can organisations address this?
One of the common challenges is individual privacy and employees not wanting others to know what they’re earning, particularly if there is a big discrepancy. Businesses need to be creative about how they even the playing field without disclosing this personal information.
Management may say “we want to flatten this and not have discrepancies between people by their gender and role”, but it’s pretty hard to take money from someone’s salary to even it out. Alternatively, getting everyone up to the same pay level quickly can impact the bottom line – it’s a difficult problem to address overnight.
I think the idea is to now have a measure on it and adjust the remuneration policies as people come and go, and make sure that anyone coming in with a certain set of responsibilities is being paid equally. An alternative option is to offer those who are on a higher wage a different way of packaging up their salary – maybe they value working less hours, having time in-lieu or additional professional development budget, so then you can use that extra saving to bring someone else up to the same amount of pay. Whatever the solution – and there are plenty of them – they are all worth discussing and implementing.
Businesses will do well to acknowledge that change has to start somewhere, and rather than putting it in the too hard basket and pretending it doesn’t exist, they will be advantaged with a change in their mindset and saying, “we are smart enough to find a way to deal with it”.
For organisations that aren’t impacted by the new bill, but want to implement gender pay transparency, what advice or resources do you have for them?
Take the time to conduct a thorough analysis of your pay between gender, but make sure to get your team on board. Communicate with your staff that you’re aware of the issue and although it may take some time, you’re committed to rectifying it.
In terms of resources, the Workplace Gender Equality Authority (WGEA) has an incredible website, full of information and data covering different industries and how they’re tracking in terms of equal pay between genders. It also has ways that WGEA can help support your business become more transparent.
At my consultancy, we offer a full gender audit of the business which covers specific indicators and data that all impact brand equity areas. It results in a scorecard that helps businesses measure and track year-on-year data, so the agency or business can introduce solutions that we help them implement and then track their success and progress. We don’t just look at finances and revenue, but the internal culture and the external facing brand as well – do people see your business as your business as being more masculine-preference or feminine-preference? You want this kind of quantifiable information so you can course correct. Being either heavily masculine or feminine leaning is not going to serve the business well moving forward, and may impact revenue and reputation. Ideally in a service based business like an agency, you want to be an androgynous brand and meet equal gender indicators.
We find that a lot of companies will just look at their data and say “oh we employ more women than men, so things are more than equal.” However, we know by interrogating that further, the majority of the women are in lower level admin or management and at the pointy end, it’s heavily male. So when you look at bonuses, pay, and money put towards professional development, the finances and resources may primarily be going towards men. This funnelling of resources to men impacts the leadership opportunities, the promotion and culture of the business overall and the way your agency brand is perceived. Ideally after our Gender Audit the difference is illuminated and the change will take place.
How is the creative/marketing industry going with gender pay transparency?
From an agency perspective, when the Ad Council of Australia did their census report, they found 33% pay discrepancy or pay gap between men and women. So at least they’re measuring it, it shows there’s an awareness about the problem within the industry.
For those agencies that haven’t implemented this type of reporting this, analogy may make sense. Imagine your agency is competing against another agency for the same work, but you’re billing 25% less than the other one for the same amount of work. You’re going to get annoyed and frustrated at the disparity. It’s the same thing at an individual level for women. If we’re doing the same work and delivering the same kind of volume and results, then why aren’t they being paid the same?
What can the creative industry do better when it comes to gender equality in general?
I think a lot of agencies now have HR departments that are committed to trying to address some of the systemic hangovers from the past. There are a tonne of global studies that show where there is more diversity and more women on the board or in leadership positions, it can lead to benefits such as, higher profitability and better performance around key issues such as risk, compliance and sustainability measures. Clients are ahead of agencies, but agencies generally catch up to where their clients expectations are.
At a global level, large award events like Cannes are starting to insist on equal numbers on juries, and they have an award, The Glass Lion, that recognises work that focuses on gender equality. It’s definitely started, but it’s just whether or not each agency is able to deliver depends on the culture of leadership, in Australia and globally.
Change takes a lot of time, and while I would love to think that everyone will wake up tomorrow and say “hang on, this isn’t measuring up. What can we do about it very quickly to make it fair?”, the reality is that re-defining their own culture and readdressing systemic issues can take a lot more time.
Is there anything else you want to add?
One of the programs my consultancy offers is called What About Men. It’s really apparent that for the last decade, there’s been a lot of fact gathering, proof and recognition that there is a gender equality problem. Men see this data, acknowledge that there are issues, but they’re confused and question where they stand – how they can support women? Will they be discriminated against? These are all fair concerns and naturally so, through times of transformation.
So our program works with men in organisations, one-on-one in a confidential setting or group forum, where they can verbalise all the questions they’re afraid to ask out loud and share their confusion or concerns. Whenever there’s a big shift from a social and wider societal perspective, it can be difficult to know how to navigate that change, so we’ve had a great response to this program. It’s not just that we’re trying to elevate women and create equality – and certainly not at the expense of men, we’re trying to bring men on the journey so everyone can benefit.
To talk with Bec about gender pay transparency in the creative industry, you can connect with her on LinkedIn. If you’re interested in her consulting services and how she can help your business, you can check out her consultancy website here.