The gender pay gap has been a key concern for businesses for a number of years and has put the female experience of the workplace in the spotlight. Though steps have been taken to bring greater parity to wages, a recent report has shown that women still hold just a third of the top jobs in the UK. Not only is this demoralising for women, it’s depriving businesses of important female talent.

Graduate schemes are one way employers are increasing opportunities for women and addressing this imbalance. It’s important that they do because, as recent research has found, firms where women make up more than a third of bosses are ten times more profitable than those that don’t. So, what exactly are they doing?


Actively supporting women

Creating role models

Affirmative action on diversity

Replacing maternity with parental Leave

Actively supporting women

Many companies now have action plans in place that promote more women to senior roles. Nestlé, for example, has its Gender Balance Acceleration Plan which aims to increase the share of women in its top jobs by 30%.

Some of the measures being taken include hiring and promoting more women into top jobs and auditing to identify areas of inequality in need of attention. Many companies are also making efforts to educate employees on unconscious bias and how it perpetuates gender imbalance. By the same token, in promoting women to senior roles, employers are taking direct action to correct the gender imbalance that is a cause of unconscious bias.

Creating role models

ONS figures on the gender pay gap revealed that women still earn 15.4% less than men in 2021 (an increase on 2020 but an improvement on 2019’s 17.4%). As has been suggested before, the lack of women in senior roles has been put forward as a possible explanation for this.

Why is this the case? One possible cause is a lack of female role models in higher paid positions. In response to this mishmash of cause and effect, graduate scheme providers are appointing more women as mentors on their graduate programmes, thus giving them greater visibility. Companies like Nestlé are also creating role models by recognising the achievements of women with initiatives like the WBCSD Leading Women Award, which was started to help achieve gender equality by 2030.

By demonstrating that leadership roles are not only attainable for women but that women can thrive in them, role models are leveraging female achievement in the workplace.

Affirmative action on diversity

Part of promoting diversity is accepting that inequality exists in society and seeking to correct it. Employers are doing this by rejecting graduate intakes that aren’t sufficiently diverse in favour of those that will help level up the gender imbalance, long-term.

With this more equitable approach, businesses are rejecting the systemic and unconscious bias that disadvantages women and using graduate recruitment as in favour of a more equitable approach. This gives marginalised groups the boost they need under the current system before a new, equal, system can be established.

One way progressive businesses are doing this is by changing the way they assess graduate suitability for their programmes. The fact is that many degrees that lead to higher paid roles are male dominated, with men accounting for as many as two thirds of graduates in subjects like economics.

Reasons for this are many but, by prioritising gender balance, progressive companies are avoiding replicating a gender bias that deprives them of female talent. With research finding that ethnically and gender diverse companies are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry average, this makes good business, as well as moral, sense.

Replacing maternity with parental Leave

ONS data from 2019 showed that up to the age of 40, the gender pay gap is negligible. That men’s earnings exceed women’s thereafter pointed towards having children as a hindrance to women’s career development.

Historically awarded to women more generously than men, maternity leave has made women more likely to take time out to provide childcare than men. While women were busy looking after children, men were able to progress their careers, which has led to them dominating higher paid positions.

Responding to changing gender norms, progressive companies (Nestlé included) were ahead of the game in rolling out gender-neutral parental leave years before legislation made it standard in 2022. By taking the initiative, these companies are demonstrating a sincere commitment to gender balance and making themselves more attractive to the best female talent.

ONS figures (above) show a general downward trend in terms of unequal pay, there is still a way to go before gender parity in the employment space is achieved. Progress has been in no small part thanks to the efforts of progressive businesses who understand the value of female talent and want to make a change.

Plans to level up pay and opportunities for women are in place, as are real targets. Nestlé, for example, has pledged to increase the percentage of women in its top 200 roles from 20% to 30% by 2022. Will it work? Well, with the clear link between gender diversity and prosperity, there’s every reason to think so.

Looking for something else to read? Check out our blog on overcoming social exclusion.

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