New rules requiring companies to report on their gender pay gaps came into force earlier this year, which I wholeheartedly welcomed. The fact that a gender pay gap still exists in 2017 is beyond ridiculous. When I hear people talk about there being a gender pay gap in their workplace, it makes me incredibly frustrated that we still need to have these conversations. But while I’m pleased that the government has taken a step in the right direction and I hope that the increased visibility will make businesses think more carefully about their pay structures, it still doesn’t go far enough to ensure workplaces are more equal and welcoming to all.
Ultimately, it’s up to a company’s founder to set the right tone and ensure the culture is fair for all genders. A culture that values diversity when it comes to gender, race, age and experience is more likely to thrive. Any leader who thinks otherwise is just being short-sighted. My own business has always aimed to employ the best person for the job first and foremost, regardless of their background or gender.
At Ann Summers, even though we’re predominantly a female-focused business, it’s important to me that no man would feel unwelcome. We have an open-door policy that welcomes feedback from anyone in the organisation. This culture of openness allows us to address any concerns people might have about their working environment. We certainly don’t hire or make decisions based on a person’s gender. As long as someone’s performing well, it shouldn’t matter whether they’re the only man in a company of 100 women or vice versa: they should be celebrated and included.
Unfortunately, not all startups manage to be welcoming to everyone and, as a result, they end up missing out on a wealth of talent. Some businesses and even sectors still have a boys’ club mentality and this isn’t going to change overnight. There are industries where women are seriously under-represented and in many cases women aren’t even considered for roles.
To address this in the long term requires leaders to be bold and focus on hiring and supporting all their employees, even if this means breaking away from the status quo. We also need to encourage more young women to consider careers in traditionally male-dominated industries like engineering early on and provide them with more varied career advice. I hope that this early intervention, coupled with brave leadership within businesses, will help us to see some visible cultural changes in startups across the board.