Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid looks at gender pay reporting


The can of worms is open and wiggling across my desk. Gender pay gap reporting has forced the Higher Beings to look more closely at pay, and although it is not published yet, I can tell you the results of our report are shocking.

However, the real problem is not so much about pay but about position. For example: our lowest grade includes junior administrators and receptionists and there are no men at all in these grades. When you look at our highest executive grades, women are scarce. And then I use the word ‘women’ very loosely. These few ladies are testosterone-fuelled warriors just like the rest of the Higher Beings. They speak in a deep voice and make impossible demands while banging the table with a fist. If ever there was a message about what it takes to get to the top around here, this is it: if you are not actually a man, you must look and sound like a male stereotype and an aggressive one at that.

Still, gender pay reporting has highlighted to an otherwise disinterested management team that there is a pay issue at the top. Until recently, that was of little concern to anyone but these poor individuals; now the figures will be public and shaming.

Executive pay review

Suddenly, we have been asked to do a special pay review of the top 100 executives. No one has mentioned the word gender, but it is there in subtext. I am guessing they hope we can find some market justification for the inequality. I don’t think so.

I create a spreadsheet with all the relevant pay and job details. I insert pay data from two executive pay surveys against each one. Big Bad Boss is on the list, and I am generous with his job match, because he will challenge me if I show him above market.

Salary survey data requires a lot more creative interpretation when it comes to senior jobs. After all, a clerical role can be very similar across different organisations, but an executive with the same job title might head up anything from a tiny department in an insignificant business unit to a massive global team. I have added a lot of scope data to my spreadsheet to justify the survey matches made, but I cannot help but wonder if the reward staff completing the survey were as careful or did they just match based on job title, rendering the data useless.

Many people would get upset looking at the size of these salaries. There are some who believe that if only the few were not paid so much, there would be much more to go round for the many. A sweet but misguided view.

Pay envy

And then there is pay envy. I once had an American boss who would get all grouchy if she saw anyone was paid more than her, particularly someone she did not rate. It is awkward for someone in HR to feel that way. Luckily, I am not jealous. My view is this: if these guys can get away with earning that much for providing so little value, it leaves the door wide open for the rest of us.

Nor am I disturbed for egalitarian reasons; our executives are regular employees on the payroll, so the more they are paid, the more serious amounts of tax they have to pay. Really, I have seen the numbers. This can only help those who are dependent on the state. If the Higher Beings were paid less, not only would they pay less tax, the excess would simply go on marketing or something equally pointless. Give them all a pay rise, I say, but it is not a popular view.

After crunching the numbers, the pay gap is underlined. I’ve highlighted those where there is a significant difference to market. There are 10 women in total on the sheet. Yes, only 10% of our Higher Beings are female. There are 10 people paid significantly below market, and it is the same 10. Get out of that, guys. There also 20 executives paid above market and they happen to be in the top officer grades. Well, who is going to argue with them?

Pay rises

Someone needs to explain the data to the European president. Big Bad Boss isn’t about to handle that hot potato, so he sends me. Thanks. I deal with our executive management team every day, but I still get nervous when I have to present something complicated. The European president is the brightest of the dim but he still grills me for half an hour before he finally gets it. Then, I am not surprised to be asked to grant ad-hoc pay rises to all those below market. The senior gals will be thrilled.

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Fixing the female executives will help the overall statistics, but it will not solve the problem. It is a shame we didn’t review the wider population at European headquarters. Mind you, I don’t think it would have made so much difference, the overall gap being more down to opportunity than equal pay. What we really need to do is to promote more women, to consider them for senior managerial roles without expecting them to confirm to old leadership stereotypes. That said, I am aware of the power struggles in the boardroom. I have seen Big Bad Boss come back from meetings bloody and beaten. For one woman, even undervalued and underpaid, I am happier where I am.

Next time… Candid learns more about EAPs.