Each week, we ask readers of The Drum – from brands, agencies and everything in between – for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.


This week, UK companies began releasing their gender pay gap data for the previous year. The data suggests that while progress on pay parity has been made across the industry, movement is stalling and the average gap at UK agencies actually widened 0.56% in the last year.

So, we asked marketers what practical things they are doing to help close the gap at their organizations.

How do you solve a problem like… the gender pay gap?

Melissa Robertson, chief executive officer, Dark Horses

Let’s start with the law. You can’t just ring up a headhunter and specify that you want a woman for a role. That’s been illegal since 1975. And here lies a potentially legal conundrum because I don’t think the 2010 Equalities Act is entirely cut and dry. In terms of corporate reputation, there will be an imperative to improve on gender pay gaps. And the Labour party has talked about imposing fines and sanctions on companies that show no improvement in their statistics.

But there’s a real danger that the only way to truly deliver against expectations is to replace an unfortunate, but not-entirely-illegal-because-it’s-difficult-to-prove, unconscious bias with a potentially-illegal-if-you’re-not-careful conscious bias. Yet it’s so much more than that. What is really required is a complete cultural and behavioral overhaul. Book in some unconscious bias training and take a long hard look at your working and hiring practices. With this more positive and less illegal hat on, there are plenty of things you can do. You can insist on shortlists that always have at least one woman.

You can make your business more attractive by improving your policies on flexible working and paid parental leave. You can change your attitudes (and pay) on the financial worth of certain roles that often have gender biases (HR v finance, let’s say). You can appreciate the value of a returning mother (or father) – Creative Equals has an awesome program of Creative Returnships, which agencies should be crying out for. From personal experience, I was much better at my job after becoming a mother because you totally learn how to focus and get shit done.

So, for all those businesses that haven’t yet dared to work out their pay gap, I urge you to do it. Do it urgently. Set it in motion today. Whatever your size. You will almost certainly be disappointed. But use that as impetus. Because it’s only when we confront our frailties that we then do something about them.

Tanya Joseph, managing director, Hill & Knowlton Strategies and WACL Executive Committee member

In March, Hill+Knowlton Strategies London published its gender pay gap for the period 2019 and 2020. Our mean gender pay gap fell from 15.3% in 2019 to 10.8% while the median figures were 8.9% in 2019 to 2.6% in 2020. I am immensely proud of this progress.

The GPG is an important metric of gender equality and we are committed to continuing our efforts to close it. We are doing it by recruiting more women at all levels, ensuring they can progress in their careers, including supporting flexible working and creating a tailored development program to support our women leaders, with programs focused on making an impact or dealing with imposter syndrome. We talk openly about the specific challenges facing women and work hard to create an inclusive culture in which everyone can thrive.

Jason VandeBoom, founder and chief executive officer, ActiveCampaign

To create the greatest change in the gender pay gap, we need more women in leadership positions and to have companies foster workplaces where women can thrive. We recently onboarded 300 new employees and on their first day they received DEI training and were taught how to spot unconscious bias. This makes an inclusive workplace top of mind for all.

Elsewhere, our Women of ActiveCampaign employee resource group creates a forum to amplify the voices of our female staff and receive mentorship from our leaders, such as our recent addition to the board, Cindy Guerra Robbins, who joined from Salesforce. I also think it’s important to use third-party reviews or reports on pay. This outside view holds your internal team accountable to the greater industry.

Vonnie Alexander, co-founder, Kitcatt Nohr

In 2020, the gender pay gap was 15.5%. Annual reporting for businesses (with over 250 employees) started in 2017/18 and the gap is shrinking, but slowly.

Two things will close it. Firstly, total transparency. Businesses should openly share their stats with their own people, men and women, to help solve the problem. This isn’t just a female issue – men have mothers, daughters, partners, wives and friends for whom this is important.

Secondly, tough targets. We are all motivated by goals. We need a big hairy audacious goal – for example, to have no gender pay gap by 2025 at the latest.

We should measure what matters, deliver what we commit to and accelerate the pace by setting a challenging deadline.

Alicja Lloyd, deputy chief executive officer, Feed

Women work an average of 63 unpaid days a year because of the gender pay gap. This inequity has thrived in cultures that shroud pay in secrecy. To counteract this, we introduced a zero pay gap policy, which is integral for our business and the women who make up 58% of our workforce.

We analyze variations in anonymized data so that we are clear and open while respecting everyone’s privacy.

As much as we are all invested in our businesses, clients and work, no one works for free and transparency ensures pay parity. It is only by talking openly that we can stamp out the gender pay gap – something that should be a priority for all businesses.

Chris Marlow, chief executive officer, Iris London

Improving both the female experience and the gender pay gap is a major priority for us at Iris. We’ve made a public commitment to have 50% senior female representation on the London board within 18 months and to reduce the gender pay gap by 5% year-on-year.

The biggest shift and focus for us is not only around transparency, but immediacy – we’re going above and beyond the government’s requirements to publish our gender pay gap data one year in arrears and are instead sharing ‘real-time’ data with our people in May 2021.

This will help us understand what the immediate impact of the measures we’ve been taking are having on Iris females right now. Our flexible working scheme, ‘For the Flexi’, has been designed to ensure that no one loses out by being tied to the office or rigid working hours, and our maternity and paternity packages are being modernized to ensure we increase the chances of our best female talent returning to work post-maternity leave.