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Unpicking the pay debate???

By Toby Burton. Published on 20 April 2016

There is a lot of talk about pay at the moment.    Column inches galore across soft and hard copy press – almost all of it negative.

Leading the charge is the Gender Pay Gap, with the Government set to ‘name and shame’ companies by publishing league tables on the topic.   Then there is the perceived growing chasm between the wealthiest and poorest.   Oxfam said that last year just 62 people owned as much wealth as 3.6 billion people — half the world’s population.  The number of epic-rich you need to balance half the world is reducing. Just five years ago you’d have needed 368.

Both topics are highly emotive settings for heated debate.

In my capacity as a head-hunter for Reward leadership, I am naturally curious about these debates and indeed the root causes behind the issues.   Can the Reward profession I serve, collectively, play a bigger role in solving aspects of espoused inequalities? And if so, to what extent?

So I set about reading up and trying to learn more, in much greater detail. I approached it with a real sense of enthusiasm (I thought about describing this reading as research – ‘browsing with purpose’ is probably a better reflection).  I found the internet, as ever, is a fantastic resource and there is a myriad of data available surrounding the pay debate.

However, as time wore on and I delved deeper, the only thing I learnt with any certainty, was for each angle I sought to clarify, I found multiple answers clarifying either direction with empirical conviction. So which to value more? Which data to trust? Why is there such disparity in research findings?

I won’t seek to offer solutions to such huge topics on this page. Save to say, in regard to the Gender Pay debate, HR can impact helping the solution by establishing best in class flexible working environments for parents returning to work. Data is indeed consistent in pointing to this stage of career being the key spike for disparity in pay.

I drew several general conclusions from the quagmire of wisdom available:

  • It is a worthwhile exercise to take extra time to read a 2nd, 3rd and even 4th report when considering such politically motivated and indeed highly emotive topics.
  • Article headlines (and I include the broadsheets in this) are not nearly reflecting the full spectrum of the debate – good news rarely makes the headlines I suppose.
  • In this smart-phone driven, bite size culture we now live by, I wonder how many readers delve beyond the third paragraph with any consistency, before making their minds up and moving on with their busy lives? This further drives emotion over facts.
  • Unfortunately, the pay debate is a political weapon more so than ever, fuelled not least by the bonus culture of the financial services sector – politicians love to score points off each other and thus further energising the spin doctors.

The upside to the headlines, is even if they are not always accurate, is at least awareness is now raised, the debate is actually happening and it is front of mind.

Please click here to read the full Reward Spring Insight 2016 or to discuss further please contact me on 01753 303 600 or email toby.burton@etonbridgepartners.com

Toby Burton


With over 20 years’ experience across the UK, Europe & US within the human resources market, Toby leads our Human Resources Search Practice with an operational focus on reward leadership assignments.