International Women’s Day: Discussing the Reverse Gender Pay Gap with HR Director, Sarah Whittle

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global celebration that takes place on 8 March every year. It is an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Freshwater’s HR Director, Sarah Whittle, outlines what we do to empower females within the organisation.

So Sarah, what does International Women’s Day mean to Freshwater?

“Freshwater is passionate about the achievements of all employees – whether men or women. But International Women’s Day enables us to take a moment to reflect on the importance of achieving gender equality – not just at Freshwater, but all over the world.”

Is this still relevant in 2019? Surely, gender equality, especially in the workplace, is a given?

“You’d like to think so, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Recent research from the Trade Union Congress shows that the UK has one of the worst gender pay gaps in Europe, with a 17.9% difference in earnings between men and women. This effectively means that women work for free for the first two months of the year.  We take gender equality at Freshwater extremely seriously. In fact, at Freshwater we have a reverse gender pay gap as 70% of the top 25% paid employees are women.”

That’s interesting. How did you achieve that?

Our HR policies are designed with equality and diversity at their very heart, and this informs everything we do. We support colleagues to develop as individuals, helping to build their confidence and project their personal brand, both internally and externally. This starts from the outset – at the induction stage – and continues throughout their time with us. It’s achieved by our mentoring and buddying system, having a sophisticated talent and succession plan, giving individuals exposure to different areas of work and trusting them to get involved with complex projects that really challenge them.  Our aspiration is that this approach will help colleagues to progress so that they feel empowered to seize future opportunities at work.”

So can you give us some hard stats as to how Freshwater fares, and what you measure in terms of demographics?

We report quarterly on all areas of HR from labour turnover to the number of training days we’ve supported.  In relation to gender, out of a workforce of 50+ staff:

  • 61% are women and 39% are men
  • 80% of Directors are female
  • 50% of the Senior Executive Group are women
  • 74% of Managers are female.”

That’s pretty impressive. Can you give us a few stories that lie behind these figures?

Where do you want me to start? There’s too many to mention individually. But, just by way of example, two of our senior level colleagues, Kate Harvey and Louise Harris, started with us either on work experience or at our most junior position, while our Managing Director, Angharad Neagle, joined Freshwater as an Account Director in 2008. Ultimately however, it’s talent that’s rewarded – regardless of gender or, indeed, any other factor.”

With gender parity still an apparent 168 years away, many are hoping the trajectory surrounding women’s rights climbs as the year continues. What future plans does Freshwater have in place?

“We’re definitely not about to rest on our laurels. We will be launching the next level of our talent and succession plan, rolling out a new equality and diversity training module, distributing a hot-off-the-press Culture Book, showcasing our people practices, and adding to our reward and recognition strategy.”

Finally, what will you be doing on International Women’s Day this year?

“The theme for IWD 2019 is #BalanceForBetter, so we will be busy promoting the importance of the cause in both our London and Cardiff offices. We’ve created a short video that celebrates just some of the women in our workforce, will be asking staff to reflect on what balance means to them and will be sharing social media content far and wide to add our voice to the campaign.”