Tech City UK Blog

As another news story breaks about badly behaved men, all us women are asking the same question – “Is this it? Have we reached the tipping point? Can we actually change the dynamics of the work world now?”

If the first step towards change is awareness, then we are on the right path. In the UK, a new law came into effect in April 2017, which requires companies with over 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap by March 2018. As of mid-October, only 126 companies of an estimated 9,000 had filed anything. So far, the numbers are not looking promising for women, according to The Financial Times:

  • Financial services has a median gender pay gap of 31%
  • Electricity and gas suppliers had the second highest gap, at 26%
  • Construction sector at 23%

Overall, the UK’s median gender pay gap for all employees, full-time and part-time, stood at 18.2% in 2016 and rose to 18.4% in 2017 (according to latest figures from the BBC).

What does it look like at Tech City UK?

Tech City UK, which includes Tech North, is a small organisation with only 41 employees, but we decided to hold a mirror up to ourselves and see how we fared against the benchmarks. In numbers of staff, we fare well. We are 58% female, 42% male and 17% of the staff is non-white ethnic groups. But, we have a median gender pay gap of 20% in favour of men.

In analysing this, we’ve found that the culprit is not unequal pay. We have pay bands that ensure we compensate people equally for the same roles. The cause is unequal balance of men and women at mid-level and junior roles. We have more women than men in junior roles; more men than women at mid-level roles; and equal numbers in senior roles.

Why? I could give lots of theories – not enough female applicants at mid-level roles, not enough male applicants for junior roles, poorly crafted job specs, rush to recruit, etc – but the truth is, we don’t know because we don’t have the data.

Like many fast-growing startups, we grew organically and didn’t make a conscience effort to track our recruiting efforts. That is changing now. We are putting in tools that will help us track diversity of every applicant from first touch to last.

But, gathering this data won’t give us the answers. It may tell us what is happening, it won’t tell us why. For decades, I have heard men and woman repeatedly claim the “why” is because women are less confident than men. It isn’t true.

What is true is that men and women are instinctively different in the way they relate to each other.

Women and men in conversation

“For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships… For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order,” writes Deborah Tannen, Georgetown University linguistics professor in her book, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.

Little boys will use language to top each other: “I can hit a ball up to here,” says a boy reaching his hand high; his friend will say “mine’s up to the sky:” the first boy says “mine’s up to moon”; his friend says “mine’s all the way up to stars.” It is
a male conversational ritual.

The same effort that little boys put into topping each other, little girls put into proving that they are the same. “I just got a new bicycle,” says one, “I did too” says her friend even if it isn’t true. “Mine is blue,” says the first, “So is mine!” replies her friend. By mirroring what her friend is saying, she is establishing rapport, she is showing she likes her friend. This is a female conversational
ritual.

The two rituals collide in the workplace. Ask a man when he asks for a raise, and he’ll say, “When I can get it.” Ask a woman, and she’ll say, “When I deserve it.”

Women are only called unconfident if graded by men’s rituals. “There’s too much ‘we’ and not enough ‘I’” a former male boss of mine told me disapprovingly. But, if the shoe were on the other foot, and women were in positions of power, then men might be considered the ones with low confidence since they are less comfortable with language of rapport.

Of course these differences are not absolutes, but lay on a spectrum – women use the language of competition and men use the language of belonging frequently.

But linguistic research has shown that most females instinctually favour the language of belonging while most males instinctually favour the language of competition. And these contrasts are layered over by cultural differences, regional and family customs that make creating an “inclusive” workplace particularly challenging.

To change the dynamics of the workplace, we have to create company cultures that don’t force either gender to play by the rules of the other. We need a new playbook – one that embraces our differences to create something richer for it.

We can’t think about men versus women, we have to think about men and women. What does that mean in practice? A simple rule for us is to aspire to have our company staff reflect how we want our customers to look and act. We want more women to join the ranks of digital entrepreneurs; given only 17% of digital startups have a female founder, according to Tech Crunch. That means we need to add strong female voices at every level of our own organisation. The digital startups we work with should be equally motivated to raise their game, since women account for 85% of all consumer purchases, according to Forbes. It is
easier to connect with your customer if you speak the same language.

Fast Facts:

  • Women are half the world’s population
  • Men make a global average of 75% more than women, according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2017
  • Women hold 21.4% of the world’s parliamentary seats according the UN
  • “Women make the decision in the purchases of 94% of home furnishings…92% of vacations…91% of homes… 60% of automobiles…51% of consumer electronics” according to Harvard Business Review
  • Eight men own half the world’s wealth, according to Oxfam.

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