– By Jo Cribb –
I recently lead a session with an amazing group of women who were fired up to make a difference in their organisation for other women. In doing so they knew they could improve the culture for everyone, and their organisation would be much more successful. But we had to have a serious tactical conversation. If they went too hard, they would potentially get ignored. If they weren’t bold enough, they would potentially get – well – ignored.
This is the tightrope I feel like I walk most days.
Not always that well. It’s hard to hear someone screaming at you. It’s hard to hear someone who is silent. Being able to effectively communicate and influence change lies somewhere in the middle.
It was silence that was the driver behind my recent TED Talk on closing the gender pay gap. One of the reasons the gender pay gap continues to exist is that it lives in our silence and our uncomfortable relationship with our salaries. We don’t like to talk about money. While the statistics show there is a gender pay gap that hasn’t changed much in the last decade, individually many of us don’t know if we are paid fairly. And many organisations don’t know if they have a gender pay gap or not.
So what if we were brave, and asked our employers – hey, are women paid the same as men here?
Our employers would need to answer (many would need to do the sums first in order to be able to answer). Sounds simple, ah? But how many of us are prepared to ask? It is pretty hard.
Many women I have spoken to are particularly worried about speaking up. They are rightly sensitive to the potential ramifications and labels that can come from doing so.
So I suggest men ask, as well as women, and that we ask in groups, or through others (managers or union reps), or use humour. That we ask on behalf of our mums, sisters, daughters, partners and friends.
I think about the act of asking like it is micro-volunteering. It’s about a short, sharp action we collectively do to generate change. It’s a small gift of time to help generate the societal change we all want.
If we all took the five minutes to have what could be an uncomfortable discussion with our employer, we could change the dial on this issue. Our employers would need to answer and the conversation would begin on how to fix the gap. Once they know they have a gap, they will put plans in place to address the gap. Over time, they would expect to be asked. Questioning your employer whether they had a gender pay gap would be standard practice at a job interview. Smart organisations will put their gap (or lack of) out there for potential employees and their customers to see.
But to get this impact, it is something we all need to ask for. Imagine what else we could change if we got organised and all took the five minute challenge every so often to be brave and speak up?
Jo Cribb’s portfolio includes working for gender equality, building the capability of the NGO sector and improving literacy rates. She holds a number of directorships, runs her own consultancy and coaching business and leads an NGO.
Illustration by Natasha Vermeulen