Bridging the gap

For most firms across the professional services sector, one of the most significant reputational challenges faced in recent weeks has been the compilation and disclosure of their gender pay gap figures. The debate rages on regarding the validity of the methodology, but few would argue against the principles of transparency and equality that lie at the core of the new requirements.

The flashpoint – particularly in the accounting and legal sectors – clearly proved to be the conundrum over whether to include LLP partners in the reporting. It is on this aspect that we can get a sense of the boldness, or fear, with which firms chose to approach this entire issue. Indeed, several firms clearly and voluntarily took their stand by going above and beyond the reporting requirements. Whether in support of principle or for less than altruistic reasons, a few key firms had the gumption to put their heads above the parapet – a regrettably rare occurrence in almost any sector, let alone professional services.

This entire scenario shows just how important and powerful – or, when handled badly, detrimental – the creation of a narrative around such an issue can be for a firm’s brand. Firms that clearly articulated the reasons behind the figures were notable, without shying away from the challenge of the work still to be done. In the eyes of the marketplace, this came across as transparent, empathetic and even virtuous amidst a relentless war for talent, female or otherwise, and an on-going march toward equality and fairness.

Conversely, firms who approached the entire debate in a perfunctory way, without a hint of the need for a redoubled commitment to equality, stood out like a sore thumb. Perhaps they were hoping to disappear into the pack. Diversity figures are now a staple of bids and tenders, and I struggle to see how on earth taking such a reticent approach will help brand perceptions among key buyers of professional services.

Certainly, this whole exercise has shone a stark light on just how far the sector still has to go in terms of equality. However, there are also lessons to be learned in terms of brand boldness that all professional marketers should heed. Faced with sometimes challenging sets of figures, some firms stuck their neck out. I suspect that, in the long-term, their brands will be rewarded for doing so, even as the debate rages on and the reporting methodology is reviewed and updated.

This will not be the last philosophical, societal or even moral gauntlet thrown down to the professional services sector. The next time around, will we see more professional service firms embracing the challenge? I truly hope so, as it provides an opportunity for firms to look themselves in the mirror and demonstrate just how bold, or not, their brands really are.

Scott Addison, Committee member, PM Forum London