The Great Hall at Lincoln's Inn. Photo: Shutterstock

Friday 17th June 2016

'The Female Advantage'

Hoggett Bowers’ HR dinner addresses the gender pay gap

The sun came out for the Hoggett Bowers HR Directors’ Dinner, which was attended by around seventy senior HR folk. The dinner took place at the Great Hall at Lincoln’s Inn, London, following an opportunistic and highly enjoyable reception outside on the patio.

Sue Langley – awarded an OBE for services to women in business – gave the post-prandial address on the subject of the gender pay gap. Langley is currently Chairman of Arthur J Gallagher and a Non-Executive Director of UKAR, and has previously been COO of Hiscox, CEO of the UK Financial Services Investment Organisation and a consultant at PwC.

She plays the saxophone and is a qualified scuba diver. One must hope that she never gets the two bits of kit confused.

Sue Langley. Photo: UKAR
Sue Langley. Photo: UKAR

Langley is often referred to as a good example of social mobility in action. She hails from the East End of London and was raised by parents who left school at 15. She describes herself as a ‘great fan of self-direction, taking opportunities and being open to new ideas’.

In terms of the gender pay gap, Langley sees three main causes: work-life balance, women not going into certain lucrative industries, and women often being ‘lost to organisations’ before they reach senior levels.

Redressing any imbalance is not, she believes, so much a question of changing the system as a requirement for a series of individual interventions.

Individual treatment

‘You can’t process the hell out of this one,’ she warned. ‘A process won’t remove the gap. You have to talk to women individually.’

Langley also suggests that women should accept that they offer different qualities to (say) male board members. ‘The best Chairmen realise that they need you on the board because you think in a different way,’ she said. ‘Women need to be more forceful about the fact that being different isn’t wrong.’

A generation of ‘she-men’, she says, isn’t what’s required. Instead: ‘Being female works to your advantage’.

Langley has felt the discomfort of discrimination. She spoke of one employer who would move Langley’s seat at corporate functions so she could ‘sit with a partner from South Africa, say, who needed a woman to entertain him.’

Langley insists that generally there is ‘no malice’ intended in such sexism, but recognises that it can make women feel isolated and requires them to be ‘resilient’.

She suggests that, in order to redress the gap, organisations should promote on ‘competence and ability rather than time served’, and evaluate performance by achievement rather than presenteeism.

‘Get the job done and feel free to achieve objectives in your own way,’ she counselled the women in the audience. ‘As long as you hit those objectives, you can do it any way you want. Don’t look at a certain male and think that you have to do it his way.’

About the author

Andrew Baird

Andrew is the CEO of HRville. He is also Employer Brand Director of Blackbridge Communications, Editorial Director of Professionals in Law and an associate of The Smarty Train. Previously, he was the MD of TCS Advertising.