Mind the pay gap: It's time for companies to commit to doing the right thing

Helen Brand
The BBC has come under fire for gender pay inequality (Source: Getty)

Every International Women’s Day, there is a strong focus on systemic gender inequality, and the need to reduce and eventually eradicate it.

In fact, over the past year there’s been a lot of talk on this topic.

On last year’s International Women’s Day, I wrote in City A.M. that it was time to put our talk into action, and to take practical steps to change the status quo.

For ACCA, one of those steps was to calculate – and report – our gender pay gap, which we’ll be publishing this next week.


The gender pay gap shows the differences in the average pay between men and women – regardless of the nature of their work, across all jobs, at all levels of the organisation.

It’s an important figure, and one which I am glad to see certain UK employers have to publish by law from this year forward.

The new rules only apply to businesses with more than 250 employees. And although ACCA does not fall into the category of employers having to publish our figures, we welcome the opportunity to voluntarily report our gender pay gap this year – and each year – as part of our commitment to equality and diversity.

Humble beginnings

Reporting on our gender pay gap was a harder – and more humbling – process than I expected.

But leadership is about transparency: acknowledging when there is a problem and committing to doing the right thing.

ACCA’s mean gender pay gap is 8.8 per cent, and its median is 9.3 per cent. These are both lower than the UK’s national gender pay gap. But I was disappointed, nonetheless.

This year, I have been the chief executive of ACCA for 10 years, and not once have we stood still on matters of equality and of fairness.

Women represent over half our UK workforce and 56 per cent of our leadership group, and we offer flexi-time, family-friendly policies, home-working, and part-time working arrangements.

ACCA’s council, leadership, and workforce are passionate about reducing gender bias and inequality. But it is clear that it has not been enough.

Good intentions

I was wrong to assume that the right intentions had necessarily led to the right amount of change. So this led me to think – what more should we be doing to fix it?

The work that we put into reporting our gender pay gap was certainly a worthy start.

I saw first-hand the willingness to change within and across the organisation. The men on my team are just as passionate about finding the root cause and fixing the matter as I am.

And the process of uncovering the gap and its causes is already driving better behaviours across ACCA.

As a professional accountancy body, we know that reporting – financial and otherwise – is an important part of any organisational change and can indeed often be the catalyst for doing so – our 8.8 per cent gap is our catalyst.

Breaking down bad behaviours

We have realised that – while it hasn’t been intentional – there are systems and systemic behaviours that have been reinforcing the gender gap. The problem is deeply embedded in our society and our history.

The first step to making change is to voluntarily issue our statistics, and there will be more to follow. The importance of disclosure as a starting point cannot be underestimated.

Once an organisation puts such information forward, anyone can see it. And in the act of communicating it, you’re demonstrating your willingness to engage with the problem and seek solutions.

Your stakeholders can examine the authenticity of what you have reported; they can react or criticise – and that engagement helps to progress the conversation and results in action.

Reporting the gender pay gap holds us all accountable to making efforts to reduce it.

Getting to the root of the problem

Last year, we introduced a new grading structure, underpinned by a robust job evaluation methodology, to ensure all roles at ACCA are sized appropriately.

We have held workshops to understand the impact of our pay policies on the gender pay gap, and will be further reviewing our pay policies later this year.

We recognise that there are various factors, in addition to pay frameworks and policies, that may contribute to the existence of a gender pay gap.

We are committed to investigating the underlying reasons and addressing any contributory policies or practices.

We will be implementing subjective bias training for hiring managers across the organisation, and conscious inclusion training for all people managers.

Our people will be up-skilled in making considered decisions, increasing our awareness of our own bias and being aware of the impact this can have on the decisions we make and the behaviours we exhibit.

This is in no way an exhaustive list, and we have more work to do, but I am confident that we can only close the gap further as we progress through these changes.

A clear business case

As a body committed to delivering public value, we are also doing what we can to give our members the knowledge and power to affect similar changes.

We have conducted extensive research into corporate culture (see, for example, the ACCA culture-governance tool) and the long-term benefits of diversity at all levels of an organisation.

Not only is narrowing the gap the right thing to do, but there is also a clear business case for action on equality.

Uncomfortable realisation

I’m glad that more organisations will be disclosing their gender pay gaps this year, voluntarily or otherwise. The realisation that gender inequality is alive and well is uncomfortable, but certainly not unique to me and to ACCA.

So my question for all business leaders this International Women’s Day is what are you going to change?

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