Career

How one engineering firm closed its gender pay gap in its New Zealand division

When AECOM discovered they had a gender pay gap senior management stepped in to close it. Here's how they did it.

The crusade to close the gender pay gap appears to be succeeding – currently, it's the second smallest gap it's been, at 9.2 per cent, since records began 20 years ago, down two per cent from last year. And it's thanks to companies like AECOM who are taking a closer look at their numbers.

When the engineering consultancy company found out they had a pay gap, senior technical specialist Emma Trembath was one of several managers who committed to the company-wide priority to close the gap. With the support of their CEO and HR team, AECOM succeeded in closing the pay gap in like-for-like roles within the company this year, closing the overall gap in their NZ business by more than 10 per cent.

It wasn't just a win for the company – AECOM was nominated as a Silver Category finalist in the 2017 Equal Pay Awards, where the judges praised their strategy as a "comprehensive, clear and compelling entry that shows world-class thinking making a difference for women in their workforce". Emma is proud to be part of a company that has explicitly addressed historical inequalities. Here, she talks us through the AECOM close the gap campaign

AECOM senior manager Emma Trembath is proud to work for a company that has closed its gender pay gap.
AECOM senior manager Emma Trembath is proud to work for a company that has closed its gender pay gap.

How did you find out you had a pay gap?

We discovered the extent of our pay gap in 2015 when we started to look – this was instigated by Lara Poloni (former Australia New Zealand CEO, now CEO for AECOM in Europe, Middle East, India and Africa) pledging support to become one of Workplace Gender Equity Agency pay ambassadors and kicking off a detailed analysis.

What was behind the 50/50 gender split for graduate recruitment?

Increasing the number of women in our organisation and our industry is a critical part of our diversity and inclusion objectives, and a really important factor in the decision to achieve a 50/50 split of male and female graduates. It goes without saying that we want to create an even playing field for pay from the outset, and so all graduates start on the same salary at AECOM.

Did you receive any pushback?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive – this is the right thing to do and our people are behind it. Our experience is that the gap has emerged through a number of different factors, primarily unintentional and unconscious bias. Some gaps could be explained by skill or experience levels, but in many cases there wasn't an adequate explanation. Once we identified that unexplainable gaps existed it was clear we needed to do something.

What solutions did you put in place to close the pay gap?

In addition to specifically correcting the pay gap – by investing AUD$1.35M for gender pay balancing across Australia and New Zealand – we needed to take steps to prevent gaps from re-emerging in the future. We set and published targets to double the number of women in associate director roles or above to 20% by 2020.

Since our first targets were set we've stretched further with an aspiration to increase that number to 25% by 2025. We revised our process for reviewing individual salaries outside of our annual pay cycle and now incorporate a check for any staff – male or female – in the relevant peer group who should also be considered for an increase at the same time.

We ensure all staff on extended periods of leave (including parental leave) are considered as part of our annual salary review. We also consider staff on parental leave for promotion.

We looked carefully at our criteria and practices for promotion as we know a lack of female representation at senior levels is a major contributor to the overall pay gap.

For senior promotions we now look at the complete pool of female candidates and from there identify anyone who's not yet ready rather than the traditional way of identifying just those candidates who we know a lot about, or who put their hand up for consideration.

What solutions can other businesses implement?

As a start, know your numbers! You can't change something that you don't measure. Understand your pay gap as an organisation and the reasons that might be behind it and then own the solutions.

Be ready to look at the like-for-like pay gap, but also the overall divide, which is likely to reflect the numbers of women in senior leadership roles. This will tell you how much work you have to do, but will also help you track your progress over time.

Sense-check your processes and practices for making pay decisions but also look beyond that to how effective your processes are for including women and supporting their careers, particularly into senior roles where numbers tend to be lower.

Why should other organisations close their gap?

It's the right thing to do. There are many skilled, ambitious and committed women in the workforce and our businesses and we must ensure we are recognising and rewarding their contribution in
the same way we recognise their male peers.

There is a growing expectation among candidates and clients that organisations are inclusive, fair and operate with integrity. It is more and more common for clients to want to understand what organisations are doing to be inclusive and support diversity when deciding to work with them, and candidates make similar assessments when deciding whether an organisation is for them.

Closing the gender pay gap demonstrates that you value the contribution women make to our businesses and that our organisations are places where women can excel right through to the most senior levels. From a commercial perspective it makes good sense.

It's well established that diverse teams outperform less diverse teams in a number of ways including innovation and quality of decisions. Who doesn't want that?

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