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International Women's Day - closing the gender pay gap at Fujitsu is an important work in progress

Cath Everett Profile picture for user catheverett March 6, 2020
Summary:
Fujitsu’s aim is to cut its gender pay gap to zero by the 2030 deadline laid out in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. But how? 

equality

Ahead of this Sunday's International Women's Day, it's fair to say that despite some progress and lots of good intentions, gender equality in the workplace still has a long way to go.

For example, only 40% of the global workforce is currently female, a rise of two percentage points on four years ago, while a mere 29% and 23% of these women hold senior and executive positions respectively (each up three percentage points too), according to HR consultancy Mercer’s new ‘When Women Thrive 2020 Global Report’.

Unsurprising then, women are still finding themselves at a disadvantage economically. The World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2020’  points out:

On average, only 55% of adult women are in the labour market, versus 78% of men, while over 40% of the wage gap (the ratio of the wage of a woman to that of a man in a similar position) and over 50% of the income gap (the ratio of the total wage and non-wage income of women to that of men) are still to be bridged.

So with such revelations in mind, just how effective have initiatives, such as the UK’s Gender Pay Gap (GPG) reporting legislation, proved in levelling this decidedly entrenched and uneven playing field?

Kelly Metcalf, Head of Diversity & Inclusion and Wellbeing at IT services company Fujitsu, believes the law, which was first introduced in 2017 for private and third sector organizations with 250 employees or more, has made a big difference:

Pay gap reporting is not an end in itself, but it is a way of shining a spotlight on gender imbalances. It’s really helped to command leadership attention and, because the data is published externally, it’s given us a tool that naturally forces the conversation to a different level. So it’s just a measure, but it gives us an objective way of understanding the progress we’re making and where we can continue to make more.

While the difference between the average median hourly rate of pay between all men and women across the UK as a whole is currently 17.3%, within Fujitsu it has now reached 15.6%, down 2.3% since the GPG legislation was first introduced.

Representation is key

But Metcalf believes the core issue is not so much one of equal pay or of treating women less favourably. Instead, in tech at least, the key challenge relates to an imbalance in the kind of roles women undertake. She explains:

We tend to see women concentrated in more junior service delivery roles or in certain functions, such as HR and marketing, while men are more evenly spread. There are also far fewer women in specialist tech roles or in sales, and they occupy fewer senior roles too. So when you look at the average pay for women, it’s for those reasons that their rates are lower – it’s not a pay issue per se. It’s about representation.

According to the latest industry statistics,women currently make up about a quarter of the total tech workforce, holding 19% of entry and mid-level roles and 16% of senior positions. In overall terms, Fujitsu in northern and western Europe at least is bang on average, with 25% of its workforce being female and 18% having upper middle to senior management roles.

The aim over time though, says Metcalf, is to achieve the 30% Club’s “magic number for female representation at board level”and to eradicate the gender pay gap completely by 2030 in order to conform with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal on achieving gender equality.

To this end, the vendor has introduced an “action plan”, designed with input from its Business Women’s Network, to help it get there. As Metcalf explains:

Getting a better gender balance involves culture change and we can only do that by looking at lots of things to help us become more inclusive. We have the leadership commitment, which is essential, but we’ve also got a dynamic plan that breaks our activities down into ‘recruit, retain, enable’ – and because it’s dynamic, we can learn as we go, seeing what works and what doesn’t and whether we need to change our approach.

In terms of recruitment, for example, the company is working closely with partners, which include universities, to ensure it attracts a good gender balance in terms of potential job candidates. But it is also looking at how to tap into new sources of talent. As a result, it is about to pilot a returnship scheme  for individuals who have been out of the workforce for two years or more.

Enabling systemic change

On the retention side of things, flexible working and a constructive work-life balance are considered important as are positive role models of women in leadership positions. To enable them to assume such roles though, the organization has introduced two specific programmes – the first is an online scheme aimed at women taking their first step into management, which consists of a series of self-development modules.

The second called ‘Leading Light’, which has just completed its “first iteration” and will be re-launched later this year, comprises a virtual coaching group for women about to move into senior management. As such, the 12-month “step-up” initiative provides participants with intensive personal and leadership development support to help bridge the gap.

But in some ways, Metcalf believes, the most important consideration of all is data:

It’s about making the discussion objective. If you focus too much on the idea of ‘gender diversity’, it can become quite emotive for male colleagues. But putting things in context and showing people in black and white that it’s about representation because there’s a gap in the numbers and women are concentrated in certain areas helps them understand the experience of women in Fujitsu and where the barriers are. Data also helps us understand the reasons why we have a gap, informs the areas we should be focusing on and helps us understand the impact of the things we’re doing.

But the careful use of language is also important in the context of not alienating a majority male population. As Metcalf says:

Focusing on a particular group can be seen to be divisive, and it’s important to remember that X% of the population in tech is male. So rather than refer to ‘women in leadership’ or ‘underrepresented groups’, we talk about ‘balance’. It’s a small thing, but in terms of messaging, it’s very important.

Even more important is ensuring that the focus on gender diversity is not limited to a small, dedicated internal group but “has critical mass” across the organization. For example, to ensure business leaders in Fujitsu buy into the concept, they are required to share a gender balance action plan as part of their annual business review and profit and loss statements. Metcalf explains the rationale:

The aim is to ensure leadership attention is on gender balance and the fact that it’s integrated into the business in this way shows it’s considered a business issue. It’s a recognition of the fact that we’ll only achieve change if there’s a systemic focus, and what works in, say, the projects business will be different to what works in sales, and in the different local areas. So the goal is to create a tidal wave of a culture shift, and the more people get involved, the more likely it is to have an impact.

My take

To truly address the gender pay gap is much more complex than simply ensuring equal pay for equal work, which in fact was legislated for in the UK as far back as 1970. Instead, as Metcalf points out, tech companies must introduce systemic change. While GPG reporting legislation will not force that, it could nonetheless provide a useful tool for “shining a spotlight on gender imbalances” - if organizations choose to use it this way, that is.

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