EDI Newsletter – January 2024

By Danielle Todd, Women in Research UK lead

In summer 2023, I undertook the inaugural Pay gap study on behalf of Women in Research and the MRS EDI Council. This project grew out of a worrying trend we observed in the MRS EDI yearly studies that demonstrated a persistent pay gap across market research and insight companies. We wanted to understand the narrative behind the numbers. The numbers that said the mean income for women who participated in our study was £53k compared to £68k for men (a 28% pay gap). As insight experts, we know the true picture is rarely simple, so we wanted to understand what was anchoring an on-going pay gap, in order to take steps towards assessing and addressing it.

As is our way, I undertook a piece of research. I spoke to ten leaders across companies of varying size, revenue and geographic location across the UK. I conducted 45 minute anonymous interviews, in which I can only applaud the candour, transparency and urgency in which leaders spoke to me about their concern over pay inequalities in their companies. This topic was never spoken of in isolation, and often spoken about in the context of or at the intersection of employee wellbeing (emotional, mental or physical), employee performance, company structure and change thereof, and industry norms. As such, throughout this article, when you see me refer to ‘protected classifications’, I’m referring to gender and beyond. Companies are keen to understand, and remedy pay related issues across gender, ethnicity, sexual identification and beyond. There are signals of progress. However, it is not consistent across all companies.

It should be noted that the companies spoken to were selected (as part of a long list of invitees!) from those already signed up to the MRS Inclusion Pledge. Two mandates of which are around publishing their Pay Gap statistics, and working towards government set targets for women and ethnic minorities. So one could hypothesis that these are already more engaged companies, versus those who haven’t started scratching the surface of any potential issues related to pay or reward among protected classification groups.

Another aspect that made genuinely insightful learnings tricky was that we are an industry made up of freelancers, SMEs and larger companies. With a wealth of history and experience, seldomly are two companies completely like each other. While evidently a strength in the diversity of thought and expertise in our industry, it made a harder task for WIRe in unpicking and understanding those stubborn pay inequalities.

However, we did uncover a number of commonalities among companies who have a reduced (compared to average) or no pay gap:

1. Gapless companies practice pay transparency

a. Whether publicly published, or within pay bands internally, there is a practice of being transparent when it comes to pay

b. There’s also diligence in sticking to pay bands as designated by level, sign-on bonuses or one-off payments across protected classifications

2. Gapless companies track progress via employee feedback

a. Tracking employee metrics, and providing a feedback loop across why and how this data is used is critical in gapless companies

b. Tracking progress against established targets, regardless of the target itself, and providing a feedback loop on progress is equally important

3. Gapless companies both require and desire change

a. Here desire trumps require(ment) in driving change. Gapless companies often make reducing wage disparity part of their business strategy or a core pillar against which targets are set

b. Additionally, it’s on the agenda for discussion at a senior level as well as communication across the business

4. Gapless companies make intentional commitments

a. Making a public and grounded commitment to what you are trying to address is often presence within these companies

5. Gapless companies grow together

a. Taking proactive steps to address historic pay inequalities, or reduce the future likelihood of these existing; through backpay, normalizing pay offers among gender regardless of negotiation abilities, access to training and fast-tracking, and use of targeted recruitment

6. Gapless companies aren't afraid to adapt

a. Sharing where they’ve failed or something has not quite worked

b. Adapting and trying something else to remedy an identified problem or issue

Additionally, we’ve built a Pay Gap Health Check framework, to help companies take steps to reducing their wage disparity. This was borne out of a thinking group at the MRS EDI Equality Summit, as well as suggestions around what works from gapless companies themselves.

Our industry is made up of very different companies, in terms of size, governance, and where they are on this journey, so we’ve aimed to provide guidance that can be interpreted by small, medium and larger companies according to their needs.

We understand is an on-going process. And companies across our industry will be at different points in their journey. We plan to run similar in-depth analysis next year to see where companies are in terms of establishing or continuing the hard work required in addressing any wage disparity. But in the meantime, we hope this provides some guidance for companies looking to assess and address pay inequalities, and would urge you to share successes, failures and questions with your friendly MRS EDI Council.

You can read the State of UK Research: Pay Gap study here (PDF).

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