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How I am addressing the gender pay gap in marketing

Change Makers

How I am addressing the gender pay gap in marketing


Gender inequality in the workplace has rightly been a big conversation in Australia recently. Alyce O’Brien writes about what factors contribute to the pay gap and how individuals, marketing leaders and businesses can take action to overcome ‘cultural complacency’.

Australian women were delivered the news that it is likely to take another 26 years to close the gender pay gap. What a joke! 

The UN Women Australia’s recent campaign ‘When Will She Be Right?’ highlights the dismissive attitude women are faced with and the cultural complacency that things will sort themselves out, at some point.​ But for women, that point is still too far away.

Australia ranked 50 out of 156 countries on the latest Global Gender Gap Index and it seems we are going backward. In 2006, Australia was ranked 15th on the gender equality index and this year we ranked six places lower than last year, a reflection of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on women.

Employers have become complacent, again

Equal pay was recognised in Australia in 1969. Now here we are 52 years later being told to wait a further 26 years to ‘try’ to solve an existing pay gap.

What does it say to society when women are paid less than men for equal work? Organisations need to become more aware of their own pay gap. HR teams, hiring managers and business leaders need to continue to shift the attitudes to fix the problem – and push for more action and change. 

45 percent of employers who undertook a pay gap analysis took no action to address it

The gender gap in some organisations is so large we hear they simply cannot afford to fix it immediately. These businesses are admitting they can’t afford to pay everyone fairly so they have to underpay some in order to overpay others. 

Throughout my recruitment career, I have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of action and continued disparity across the marketing industry towards women. 

Men position their salaries higher than women by $10K – $40K (and sometimes up significantly more on that) for the same role with the same years of experience. This isn’t just at the mid-senior level either, it is reflected across all levels. 

Let’s face it being a hard-nosed salary negotiator isn’t exactly one of the traits you see in most creatives and marketers. Add to that most women don’t know they are being paid less than their male counterparts. As such, they can’t take action to fix it.

Realising the critically important role I play in addressing this issue I increased female salaries to meet or exceed the expectations of male candidates for the same role – and successfully secured the positions! 

My role in addressing this issue is something I take seriously. If I didn’t, women who are already underpaid would continue to have the pay-gap follow them from one organisation to the next – and it would continue throughout their career.

What contributes to the pay gap?

There are many contributing factors with the biggest due to the continued discrimination women face during the hiring and pay decisions, along with the lack of transparency and knowledge around salaries and benchmarking of roles in market. 

Other factors include the lack of flexibility workplaces provide to care for children and the fact women still take up the disproportionate share of unpaid work and, as a result, spend greater time out of the workforce. 

Both America and the UK have introduced a ban on pay secrecy clauses in an attempt to decrease pay discrimination. Here in Australia, it is still perfectly legal in employment contracts. This means both employers and employees remain tight lipped about salary packages across the board. This must change. 

Transparency and market knowledge is key

Even today, some candidates are not comfortable sharing their salaries with recruiters. We need honesty and transparency to help identify where you sit in market to bridge the gap – not to pay you less than you are worth.

This also goes for employers. Businesses that don’t share salary ranges up front rely on asking candidates what their expectations are. What this does is put the onus of guaranteeing equal pay onto female candidates when some applicants simply have no gauge on what the role is paying. Especially if the role they are applying for is in a different industry or when marketers make a move out of an agency and into a brand role, for example. This process – whether unwittingly or not – directly contributes to the pay gap of that organisation.

Flexibility should not come at a cost to your take home salary

Not surprisingly, women often advise that salary is not the biggest motivator for making a move. Instead, flexibility and working hours are the most critical. This presents the issue of women making a move at the same salary or sometimes accepting lower salaries if they are afforded flexibility and the option to work from home when needed (pre COVID-19 times).

What can you do as an individual?

  • Do your research on what the market rate for your role and level of experience is. 
  • Connect with a specialist recruiter who has a solid number of years across the marketing market. They will provide deeper salary and market insight to assist you. There are also annual salary guides published for you to access.
  • Ask other marketers in your team and/or marketers and leaders in your network for their advice. The culture we have of not discussing our salaries with each other only perpetuates the gender pay gap.
  • Raise the conversation with your manager or business and ask to have a salary review. It’s hard to refuse a request when the justification is, ‘I should be paid the same as my male co-worker’! 

What can you do as a marketing leader?

  • Actively make a plan to close the existing gaps in your own team.
  • If you manage people, compare the salaries of the men and women in your team. If there is a gender pay gap, work with HR to close it. 
  • Engage across the full business to solve the challenge – men and women. And continue to push the issue. Don’t let it sit.
  • Make it the norm in your team to talk about remuneration with your colleagues and other women in your network. Change the culture we have of not discussing salaries with each other. 
  • Consider negotiating a clause in your contract to ensure equal pay is offered to you and your team if you are a leader entering into a new business.

What can you do as a business?

  • Be prepared for employees to enquire about a gender pay gap not only across the organisation but within their own team. And take steps to action.
  • Be transparent and advertise the salary for each position.
  • Talk about the gap issue across the business – to men and women.
  • Provide training to hiring managers on bias free salary negotiations
  • Discuss what can be offered to close the gap during the recruitment process with hiring managers and leaders
  • Complete full salary review increases, not a blanket percentage increase across the business. Men will often push harder for further pay rises than females and succeed while women will remain on a lower salary each year even with increases.

Alyce O’Brien is a recruitment leader, team strategist and the director and founder of LevelUP.

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay.


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