Petra Wilton: What lessons can organisations learn from the Hollywood gender pay debate?

Petra Wilton

It is rare that Hollywood offers lessons in effective management; mercifully few of us see Don Corleone or Miranda Priestly as acceptable role models. The campaign for equal pay in Hollywood, however, does offer real lessons.

Jennifer Lawrence, the world’s highest-paid actress, will no doubt have paused to consider the public reaction to her complaints around pay compared to male co-stars. Her willingness to share though is catalysing change for all, and is a mindset the business world should adopt by embracing the forthcoming reporting requirements on gender pay.

Simply put, what gets measured gets managed. Shining a light on what men are paid versus women at every level, as well as monitoring the percentage of women at every level, is proven to speed up progress. The efforts of the Davies report, Cranfield, the 30% Club, and government in encouraging transparency in female representation at the top, has driven a step-change in the number of women on boards.

The second lesson from the Hollywood debate is in the difference in how men and women are treated in pay negotiations. Back in October 2015, Lawrence wrote in an open letter: “When I found out how much less I was being paid, I didn’t get mad at Sony, I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.”

One of the issues with pay is that incremental rises for long-term employees often see salary divorced from performance. Likewise, mothers returning to the workplace may be shepherded into less challenging roles to fit in with childcare from well-meaning but misguided managers.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Progressive organisations focus on outcomes, not individuals, avoiding the risk of unconscious bias in decisions over pay.

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At the current rate of progress, it is estimated that closing the gender pay and leadership gap will take about 100 years. Thanks to Lawrence, and the growing number of voices challenging this, we can all hope such change is accelerated, not just for the benefit of leading ladies, but for business too.

Petra Wilton is director of strategy and external affairs at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)