Here’s how to fix the gender pay gap…

Pay women the same as men.

It may sound straight forward, but it’s not. You might also think that as a mathematician I’d explain the gender pay gap with complex statistical models, normalising for differences in men’s and women’s backgrounds, career paths and time at work. But normalisation is a con – you can justify anything once it’s already in place.

Increasing women’s pay by 8.6%

That’s why at Brainlabs we have voted to eliminate the overall gender pay gap by increasing women’s pay by an average of 8.6%. We had calculated the 8.6% to be our gender pay gap: the difference between the average men’s and women’s salaries, which we normalised only for experience. At the same time, we reviewed salaries across the whole company, to ensure that all employees were being paid fairly based on their role and experience.

Eliminating the gender pay gap in this way sparked some typical objections:

“There aren’t as many women to choose from in the tech industry!”

“Eliminating the gender pay gap won’t solve workplace gender inequality!”

None of these statements is completely untrue, but all too often they are used as justification for a lack of action in order to maintain the status quo. We believe as a team, that by using this methodology we are turning the problem on its head: tackling the end goal and then working backwards from there.

‘Pay Gap Tax’

We’re calling it the ‘Pay Gap Tax’ – a way of penalising ourselves for failing to redress the imbalance in our company and industry. By committing to repeat this exercise next year, we have a serious incentive as a business to fix the problem – we need to look at all aspects of work, from recruitment to promotion and reward to environment, in order to tackle inequality.

Unconscious Bias

It also goes much deeper than this – it would be wrong to believe that equalising pay is enough to solve the problem of gender inequality in the workplace. For a start, we need to consider the set of circumstances under which this inequality came to exist. Overt sexism still occurs and more must be done to stamp it out. But there is another dangerous tendency at play here: a unconscious bias that is apparent in a number of post hoc justifications which exist all around us.

No one wants to believe that they are prejudiced, so in a typically human way, we justify our decisions after the event, satisfied with our own lack of prejudice, an outlook which makes discrimination harder to tackle. This kind of behaviour is perfectly normal and shows up in plenty of other social scenarios. The psychologist, Dan Gilbert, has proven time and again that “human beings are famous for seeking, attending to, interpreting, and remembering information in ways that allow them to feel satisfied with themselves and their lots.”

Take this idea back to the gender inequality, and you’ll see post hoc justifications everywhere you look: in recruitment, promotion and even the celebration of success. For instance, Uhlmann & Cohen showed, using the example of a police chief role, that if the female candidate is formally educated and the male candidate is streetsmart then the hiring managers will choose the man, with the justification that formal education wasn’t as important in their hiring criteria. Then if you switch the men and women they decide the opposite…

These unconscious biases are what led us to implement a number of new policies designed to overcome them.

Tackling bias

Overly prescriptive job descriptions have been shown to deter women from applying, so we have simplified those. We have removed some of the grey areas around pay and promotion by more clearly defining what we look for in reviews, and by not using stereotypically male characteristics to appraise leadership skills. We have an anonymous comments box and an equality open forum which allow people to pass on concerns or discuss them with the wider group.

Finally, in an attempt to tackle one of the most noticeable yet most ingrained aspects of gender inequality, we have tried to define what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to language in the company. This is not to say that swearing is banned; it’s more that we do not see this office as a place for comments such as “stop being a girl”.

Eliminating the gender pay gap was an important first step, but it was only that. My experiences in the workplace have taught me that you can’t fix structural inequality by telling women to “assert themselves more” or to “lean in”. You’ve got to change the unfair system that has failed women in the past and continues to fail women today.

Time for action

It’s good to see the government compelling large companies to publish their gender pay gaps, but this measure won’t come into force until 2018 and I’ve no doubt companies will find ways to hide behind ‘normalisations’. I bet if they had to pay a ‘Pay Gap Tax’ they’d spring into action!