5 minutes

3 Ways You Can Respond to the Gender Pay Gap Right Now

It’s official. There is a gender pay gap in the UK. Thankfully what we can measure, we can fix.


Companies with over 250 employees were required by British law to release the median hourly rate paid to male and female staff by April 4, 2018. While you may not be surprised to read that there is a gender pay gap, the scale of the disparity was still shocking in many cases. Financial and banking institutions based in the UK did not fare well – bonus gaps of more than 60 percent were not uncommon. The disclosure indicated how few women have made it to the higher-paid, higher-profile roles in British banking. (And don’t even start on bonus disparity.)

Thankfully there seems to be genuine intent on the part of many financial institutions to take action to reduce their gender pay gap. There are no quick fixes but Delivering through Diversity, a report by McKinsey, highlights four imperatives:

A compelling CEO’s vision for greater gender – and cultural – balance with management accountability built in

  1. Clarity around how the vision will support the growth strategy of the business, with metrics to back this up
  2. A portfolio of initiatives centered on creating a more inclusive culture – think training for leaders
  3. Tailored for impact – local adaption, i.e. make it meaningful on the ground

While companies grapple with that, what can women do to help themselves and those who will come after us?

Response 1. Have clear career goals and a plan to reach them

If you’re an aspiring senior leader, then you’ll be interested to know that nine critical job assignments have been identified in order to support the rise to senior leadership. As Ines Wichert’s research highlights, women have historically focused on functional roles; this means that they do not get enough exposure to the types of experience that senior leaders want. The assignments are:

Early-career stretch assignments

  • International experience
  • Operational experience (including P&L responsibility)
  • Create something new (be an intrapreneur)
  • People management
  • Variety: new role/function/industry
  • Change Agent: merging/downsizing
  • Dealing with problems and crisis

Be primed and on the lookout for these roles, especially if you’ve got your sights set on the boardroom, which brings me back to having a career plan. Sadly, working hard and doing a good job won’t ensure your career will automatically progress the way you hope it will. Far better to have short- and long-term goals with a plan of action. Make sure it’s written down, and stick it somewhere you’ll see it regularly. I use an alert on my phone. Ask yourself, Am I making progress towards my ultimate goal? Have I shared my ambitions with those who can help me?

Response 2. Share your plan: present yourself as part of the gender pay gap solution

If your company has a gender pay gap and you’re a woman then, good news: you’re part of the solution! If you have a career plan, share it with senior leadership or your manager and pose it as a solution to their problem: “I know the company wants to improve their gender balance. Can I come and talk to you about how my ambitions might assist with that?”

Now that might sound daunting, but we all “fake it until we make it.” If you’re seen to believe in yourself, it makes others more likely to believe in you too.

Be noted for the ambition that you’ve got and the value you bring to the business. Articulate this regularly and to the right people.

And if you aren’t getting the experience you want inside your company, consider applying for a non-executive director role at a charity or an SME alongside your day job. For those in the UK, check out Women On Boards. A modest annual membership fee will give you access to a database of hundreds of board vacancies, along with support to get a board-ready CV together and access to training on Corporate Governance and the like.

Response 3. Get comfortable talking about the numbers

The managing partner of a well-known executive search firm recently explained to me that the way that men and women talk about promotion and pay raises differ. Men talk about size and money – responsibility for a portfolio worth at least £x, leading a department of 25 or more, turning over £x, for a minimum salary of £x. Most women don’t talk this way. We need to get more comfortable talking about money and being clear about what we want – and what we’ve achieved – in quantifiable terms.

If you’ve ever been offered a promotion without a pay rise because it’s an “opportunity” and you’ve taken it, then you have to ask what that says about how much you value yourself. Women ask for pay rises less frequently than men and they ask for less money than men. So get asking!

It’s not about fixing the women, it’s about fixing the system

A number of years ago the head of talent for a global bank said, “We need to stop trying to fix the women. We need to fix the system instead.” She explained that after a couple of decades of women’s leadership training and mentoring programmes they still hadn’t seen a significant change in gender equality in senior leadership. In her opinion, regardless of how talented her top females were, they simply didn’t get an equitable chance to reach the top seats. That needs to change. It is changing. Perhaps not as fast as some would like but I for one am thrilled that we have some data now, thanks to the gender pay gap reporting, to ensure companies are held to account.

In the meantime, you look after you! Aim high. Share your plan, and if you’re asking for a pay rise always ask for double what you want. You’re worth it.

Hayley Barnard

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