The woman who closed Kiwi company Lion's gender pay gap

When beverages company Lion learned a gender pay gap had worked its way into their organisation, they took action immediately.

By Julia Braybrook
In 2016, conversations about the gender pay gap spurred beverage company Lion to take a closer look at their numbers. Surprised to find they had a 3.2 per cent pay gap of their own, people and culture director Robin Davies set an ambitious goal: to close it right away. They succeeded, and two years down the track, the playing field remains equal.
Today, a fair and diverse workforce is at the top of the company's agenda – the aim is to make it 50/50 by 2026. NEXT sat down with Robin to talk it through.
Lion people and culture director Robin Davies

How did this change get set in motion at Lion?

We'd always looked at our numbers, but in 2016, we decided to do a thorough review of our remuneration data from a gender perspective. When we found out we had a 3.2 per cent pay gap across Lion, we were shocked – it was quite confronting.
We had lots of good conversations as a senior leadership group here in New Zealand about how this could have happened, and conversations about our culture, which we'd already been having from a gender-diversity perspective, but it gave us another lens. What was awesome is that with the support of all our senior leaders at Lion, we decided we were going to close the gap immediately.

And how about your ‘50/50 by 2026’ gender target?

We set the target after we closed the pay gap. Our goal for the 50/50 workforce was to better reflect our communities: 50% of the population is female, and it should be the same at Lion. We'd already been working to achieve this goal, with things like flexible hours, percentages targets for women and men on recruitment lists, and bias training.
We'd looked at our percentage of hires and the turnover of women and men, and realised if we continued at the same rate, we wouldn't get to 50/50 by late this century. This wasn't acceptable to us, so we set ourselves a stretch target of 2026 to ensure 'balancing out the business' was a priority.
Over the next eight years – although we really want to get there a lot sooner than that – we're increasing the percentage of women in our business, so we'll reach a point where we've got 50 per cent women and men across the business at all levels and functions.
It's about diversity of thought and diversity of perspective. We know that more diverse groups of people make better decisions, and a lot of our consumers are women, so to have the different perspectives in the room is really helpful.

Did you experience any pushback?

All of our senior leaders across Lion, including our board, were very supportive – not a single person pushed back. People are at the heart of our business, and even though it's a significant cost – it roughly doubled our pay-rise budget in that year – everyone just said, "We've got to do it; we'll find a way to fund it."

What solutions did you put in place?

At the annual pay increase in October 2016, following our review, we implemented one-off pay adjustments for about 270 people in New Zealand. Every six months, we retest all of our data to check what's happened to our gap, and we've kept it closed since then, which is something we're really proud of. It's been a real journey, and we're still learning as we go.

What steps can other businesses take to achieve gender parity?

Firstly, look at your numbers, then have some good conversations. One of the key points at which you can influence the pay gap is by addressing the level of pay on which people enter the organisation. As time goes on and other promotions happen, it compounds, and the gap gets bigger. We don't look at what someone was paid in their previous role, because we know that there's a gender pay gap in New Zealand and we have to be really careful not to bring that into Lion.
Our talent-acquisition team, not our leaders, now take the lead on remuneration conversations, and they rely on market data. We no longer share existing pay with our leaders, as this can introduce a bias. Talking openly about biases is another thing we've done; everyone who's hiring has received compulsory unconscious-bias training.
Provide pay rises to your primary carers while they're on parental leave, as this is a key point at which women can get behind. While they're away from the business, our primary carers receive a pay rise based on their achievement for the year, if possible, or on their previous achievements. We do this so we're not penalising those who are unable to demonstrate their achievements because they're not at work.
We've also updated the wording on our job postings to ensure they're attractive to everyone. This included using Textio, an application that scans ads for words that could make postings less attractive to women. Interestingly, the removal of detailed lists of requirements from job ads increased the number of female respondents from 12 per cent to 37 per cent in an experiment we did with our supply-chain roles over a three-month period last year.

How have you kept this momentum going?

Inclusion and diversity are in our business strategy. When we're hiring or promoting people, the conversations always include questions like: "Where are our women in this?", so it's quite a different mindset, which is great.
We have had specific targets for recruitment, and now we're starting to look at our turnover. We can do a lot of work around hiring women, but if they're leaving at the same rate, it's all for nothing, so we are starting to dig and understand why women leave.
We've introduced a dedicated women's capability programme that's addressing the needs our women tell us they have, with coaching around things like courage, confidence and finding a balance – and that's been really successful.
Our flexible working scheme, LionFlex, is another powerful way to attract and retain great women and enable them to balance work with their broader lives. And it's not just for women – it benefits a lot of our men as well. That has been a key 'unlocker' for us, because we know that at certain times in people's lives – when they have young children, schoolchildren or elder-care responsibilities – and for their mental and emotional wellbeing, it really helps.
Lots of men support their homes too, and LionFlex enables them to do that so their partners can achieve at work in other organisations, so we're part of the broader community and there's a flow-on effect.

What did closing the gap mean for the women in your company?

I think it's enabled people to be more comfortable broaching the subject, and it also allows our women to come to work each day knowing they're being paid fairly. It means that when we're having conversations about their aspirations or achievements, they know and we know that we're paying them fairly. So it just takes a potential point off the table.
What we've found is the importance of female senior role models. If I think about our supply-chain team, our brewery director at the manufacturing site in Auckland's East Tamaki is a woman; a number of our head brewers are women; we've got women leading teams on the packaging lines. For women coming through in that environment, seeing these amazing role models, it's really inspirational.

Why should other businesses work to close their pay gap?

It's the right thing to do. It was that simple for us.

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