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Closing the Gap

How Companies Can Become More Inclusive 

· Brand reputation,ESG,EDI,Inclusion

There tends to be a flurry of activity around gender issues in the first quarter of each year, linked not only to International Women’s Day (IWD) and Women’s History Month but also as companies prepare to share their gender pay gap data in April. However, whilst it’s great to see this topic in the spotlight in Q1, it’s not simply an annual exercise, and companies need to retain a perennial focus.

Events like IWD not only celebrate the achievements of women but also serve as a reminder of the pressing need for gender equity. Whilst applauding the advancements that have taken place, we must also face the challenges that are still very evident. For employers, that has to include a commitment to narrowing the gender pay gap. This needs to be evidenced in concrete figures when comparing the gaps – and not assuming that rhetoric alone is sufficient.

The gender pay gap is the average difference between how much men and women are paid in an organisation.i It’s a legal requirement in the UK for companies with 250 employees or more to declare these differences, both in hourly pay and bonuses, as well as the percentage of men and women in the highest, middle and lowest pay groups within a company – demonstrating gender representation at various levels.

Looking first at the good news, the full-time employment pay gap and the overall pay gap have both continued to decrease since 1997. Additionally, many women are employed part-time, and the part-time employment pay gap has remained small over the years, with women earning more than men on average.

However, there remain significant disparities, particularly in industries such as construction,
finance, insurance and education, which have the largest gaps.ii To put it in stark perspective, recent analysis suggested that if the pay gap was converted into days, it would mean that the average woman effectively works for free for nearly two months of the year.iii

And as we look at some of the data submitted in April, we can see that in some companies, the
gap is getting bigger despite promises around initiatives to support change. This leads to reputation-reality gaps, which is something we cover in our Reputational Risk Radar.

Challenges can also be seen in the lack of female representation in certain sectors, such as
Information Technology (IT). A report that looked into diversity in UK tech companies revealed that 77% of tech director roles are filled by men and also suggested that only 26% of the tech workforce are women. iv

The pay gap is markedly bigger for women aged 40 and over, with those between 50 and 59 being the most impacted. Parenthood plays a major part in this, as the gap between male and female hourly earnings “grows gradually but steadily in the years after parents have their first child”. v

A recent House of Commons report on this topic looked in particular at financial services and stated that “maternity remains a significant barrier to women in financial services, with too many women leaving the industry after having children.” vi

That said, in the FTSE Women Leaders Review, February 2024, technology and financial services
(FS) were well represented in the ‘Top Ten Best Performers List’ where the minimum criteria is equal representation on boards, with the firms placing first and second (at 71.4% and 66.7%) from technology and FS respectively.vii  So, we need to be careful in applying a broad brush about different industries here and ensure those that are leading the way in their sectors get due recognition.

The need for role models and allies

One of the hindrances that has been documented repeatedly is the lack of role models at senior levels. Women make up just 34% of all leadership roles in FTSE 250 companies, below the target of 40%. The numbers are more positive when looking at the FTSE 350, where women’s representation is at an “all-time high” of 42.1%, but it’s worrying that there are 28 FTSE 350 companies still below the 33% of women on boards by 2020 target.viii

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“There are more CEOs on the FTSE 250 called John than there are women,” said Rebecca Rennison, corporate finance partner at global professional services firm EY. “Despite having quotas for boards, and everyone working to drive better diversity, we are stuck.”

To change this, there must be a clear path with cohesive strategies around equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) efforts that demonstrate progress. In a recent event to celebrate allyship, Rennison shared one such strategy, as featured in the Business Desk, and talked of the importance of male allies making small adjustments that can have a big impact.

Whilst this is to be applauded, and Rennison adds a powerful voice to the debate, ultimately the goal should be a brand-led, cultural initiative. Often it relies instead on the goodwill of individuals within an organisation or is passed to internal – usually female – colleague groups to resolve. Instead, it should be aligned with broader communications and engagement strategies and permeate the culture and language of the organisation.

Gender parity is an essential part of brand reputation and will impact an organisation in manifold ways, from employee engagement and talent retention to external reputation, client relationships and sales.

Amp’s recent research showed brand reputation came in ahead of both product and price as the
main influence in consumer decisions,ix so something as integral to your brand as gender equity should be given its due weight.

Poor gender equity – and indeed broader lack of diversity – can lead to:

  • Difficulty retaining or recruiting talent

With website forums like Glassdoor being an important tool for job applicants to assess companies, a poor culture and lack of equitable practices will impede talent attraction, whilst low levels of engagement will lead to key talent leaving.

  • Reputation-reality gaps

As we explain in Amp’s Reputational Risk Radar, a reputational-reality gap is a disparity between what an organisation does and what it says it does. There are plenty common examples here, such as those highlighted in recent years by the Gender Pay Gap App which unveiled disparities between what companies were saying on IWD with their Gender Pay Gap data. Reputation-reality gaps pose major reputational risks, so think carefully about your organisation’s position and whether you can substantiate what you say.

  • Legal, regulatory and reputational impact

Organisations with gender imbalances are more likely to face legal issues, with a current high profile example involving a former marketing executive from a globally renowned media company saying she was fired because she didn’t fit the "stereotypical gender mould" and specifically that she lacked “docility and meekness”. As the lawsuit plays out under international media scrutiny, it’s a stark reminder that this can occur at all levels and across geographical boundaries.

  • Poor colleague wellbeing

Linked to the legal exposure, companies may also find themselves facing stress at work claims from those that feel marginalised. Based on the statistics, it’s unsurprising that women, and even more so older women, may well find themselves in this category. Time off work due to stress will impact the company from a financial and resource perspective, whilst from a moral perspective, employers have a duty of care and it’s important that issues are addressed and not simply swept aside with form-filling or minimising serious health risks. This can be particularly challenging in industries where stress is now seen as a norm and can lead to severe health and mental health risks.

The importance of cohesive EDI strategies

EDI strategies should be integrated into the company’s culture and brand values in order to
drive meaningful change. A diverse and inclusive environment isn’t only about the numbers, it’s about creating an authentic company culture, which will in turn improve retention, engagement and wellbeing, and ultimately support a more profitable business. This will align closely with your ESG (environmental, social and governance) strategy, as both should be woven into your brand narrative.

Closing the gender pay gap and promoting advancement for women in the workplace are
essential for building a more inclusive future. Companies must bridge the gap and take concrete steps toward gender parity.

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Five key steps for promoting gender equity include:

1. Demonstrating leadership buy-in

Having leaders that not only understand but champion the need for gender equity can make a
huge difference. From town halls to employee communications, the tone regarding EDI should be set from the top. That said, it doesn’t rest with your executive team to implement the strategy. Senior management must be held accountable and executive teams should be particularly wary in sectors where the gaps are greatest – or growing – as in such instances the senior managers will most likely be male and may be wary of any change to the status quo.

Such environments may also be more likely to give rise to what Grace Lordan, associate professor at the London School of Economics and founding director of The Inclusion Initiative, describes as the new “subtler forms of harassment” that are taking place in the workplacex which executives need to be aware of and understand if they are serious about improving inclusion and equality.

2. Creating an inclusive culture

Changing company cultures doesn’t happen overnight but setting out some clear pillars of
what’s expected and noting simple steps to support change can create the foundations. Having colleague forums can be a useful element here as part of a broader strategy. Celebrate achievements across the organisation and make sure women are duly represented at company events and in company discussions. Training workshops can also help here, such as understanding unconscious bias, but make sure the training is actually put into practice.

3. Reviewing diversity policies and other HR processes

From looking at promoting diversity within hiring practices (such as blind CV reviews) to ensuring promotion practices are fair and transparent, there are many ways that companies can take simple steps that can have a major impact on talent acquisition, engagement and retention. This isn’t limited to the HR team – it needs to reach much wider and all hiring managers and team leaders should be given appropriate training.

4. Building support networks with allies, sponsors and mentors

Providing support to women within the organisation will help them reach their potential and break through barriers. This can take shape in many forms, from allies that will support and champion to sponsors and mentors that can help women set goals and navigate their way towards those. It needn’t be a burdensome process either – in a recent debate on the difference between the three at an event hosted by Women on Boards, an ally was described simply as “someone who sees you and is prepared to stand by you”.

5. Being accountable

Reporting gender pay differences is a legal requirement for many organisations but tracking progress needn't be a once-a-year event. Set out a clear targets and timescales and monitor accordingly, getting regular feedback from colleagues to ascertain their views on the company culture. Listening to what’s being said, both through formal surveys and less formally in colleague groups or regular team meetings, will provide valuable insights that will be essential in order
to move the dial.

At Amp Corporate Communications, we’re committed to helping companies develop robust
strategies that will drive meaningful change, with easy-to-implement programmes that can deliver long-term results for your colleagues, your business and your bottom line.

To request a review of your EDI strategy and/or a free consultation with one of our experts, contact us at



v The gender pay gap, House of Commons library, January 2024

vi Sexism in the City, House of Commons Treasury Committee, March 2024

vii FTSE Women Leaders Review, Achieving Gender Balance, February 2024

viii See notevii

ix Based on a nationally representative survey of 2,000 consumers in February 2024

x Bad bosses are evolving, not disappearing, Financial Times, July 2023