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Current headlines are littered with debates on pay in a post-pandemic hybrid world. Strikes in the UK amongst barristers are gaining momentum, professional services sectors are fighting a salary war and eye-watering C-suite bonuses are coming into question. Yet, there is still an audible silence surrounding the UK’s ever-widening gender pay gap.

According to Major, Lindsey & Africa’s latest In-House Compensation Survey, the UK is falling behind internationally when it comes to remunerating its General Counsel equitably, with a staggering $81,610 difference between base rate salaries for men and women.

This is just one example of the pay discrepancies that still exist amongst the top talent, but these findings exemplify that there is still a long way to go to bridge the divide. A major overhaul and culture of change in the workplace seems daunting, but small changes at the very start of the hiring process would make a world of difference.

The affordability gap

With a talent war raging, hiring women can no longer be seen as a diversity initiative if they are not being paid fairly. Female candidates are increasingly being hired because they are equally good for the job as their male counterparts. At the same time, they are often still considered the more affordable option. Masked by the guise of a diversity initiative, this conversely widens the pay gap. Progress will be limited if we only succeed in having more women in the boardroom but do not equitably remunerate them.

Lessons from across the pond

A clear-cut difference in culture is also emerging between the UK and the US when it comes to transparency surrounding pay. It is still true that In American businesses, candidates and employers alike are more willing to talk about money. This more transparent approach in the states has a huge influence on power dynamics, making conversations about salaries and bonuses more of an open discussion than a taboo to shy away from. For instance, we found that last year the difference between male and female GCs and CLOs’ bonuses in the UK stood at $179,825.

How can candidates expect to negotiate a pay lift if they are not willing to discuss it? Fostering a culture of transparency within a company will not only bring to the fore any glaring inequalities but also encourage women to speak up about their current packages or ask for more money when joining a new company. If we dance around the matter of pay, the stigma will only continue to propagate the pay gap.

Reversing expectations

A simple change recruiters and HR departments alike can make when hiring new talent, is to ask a candidate what their salary expectations are, rather than their current package. Valuing the position to be filled rather than the individual conversely may result in more than the standard 10-15% uplift when moving role, but this is exactly what is necessary to close the gap. If women are to truly stand shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts in the workplace, they must first be considered as such and we need to be ambitious about expectations. When hiring a new candidate, the discussion on salary should focus on the expertise, experience, and skills they can offer.

If the UK is to truly champion women’s equality in the workplace, systemic and deep-rooted bias and taboo will need to be broken down. The best way to do this? Start from the beginning. Recruiters’ negotiations for a candidate’s new role are the first step to breaking a cycle that has allowed the gender pay gap to become so entrenched and in opening up conversation, the stigma reinforcing the glass ceiling will start to be broken down.

By Tanja Albers, Partner, In House Counsel Group, Major, Lindsey & Africa.

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