By Fiona Hathorn, Managing Director, Women on Boards UK

The research undertaken by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) in 2014, surveying 68,000 British Professionals, has shown that a woman over the age of 40 earns 35% less than a man - an average pay gap of nearly £17,000 — whilst among company directors, men take home £21,000 more than their female colleagues.

Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), said in the Guardian: "This is all about apathy and ignorance. Companies think it is not a problem for them, so they don't do anything about it. Every company needs to conduct its own survey. It is pretty obvious a lot of the FTSE 350 are [paying their women managers less than men] for the data to turn out like this. There are very few good guys."

The UK Government, via the Government Equalities Office, is very concerned about the gender pay gap which currently averages 20%. In 2011 they launched an initiative called ‘Think Act Report’, a voluntary initiative under which companies pledge to first think about the gender equality issue, second to act on what they find and third to be transparent and report on their data. As of today, about 200 large UK companies have signed the pledge including Tesco, Linklaters, BAE Systems and RBS Group.

Whilst I applaud the Government for the ‘Think Act Report’ initiative, more is needed in the form of forced disclosure. The Australian government took a lead in this area, which has provided interesting results.

The Australian Story

Since 2009, a range of Australian government, industry and private sector policies have seen some positive outcomes in relation to gender balance, primarily led by the introduction of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Act). This involves mandating the reporting of gendered data for all non-public sector employers with over 100 employees against specified gender equality indicators (GEIs).

Data is still rolling in from the first major reporting period, and the results will be publicly available on the Workplace Gender Equality Agency website to enable industry comparisons and benchmarking.

Non-compliance results in the naming of the employer in a report to the Minister, or by other means, as well as possible ineligibility to tender for contracts under the Commonwealth, some State procurement frameworks and possible ineligibility for some Commonwealth grants or other financial assistance.

Many existing organisations were designed by men, for men, in the days when women were excluded from all the professions except teaching and nursing. With a wife at home, these organisational designers of the past had no need for flexible working or child-care facilities. In 2014, with so few women at the top challenging stereotypes and pointing out the things that don’t work well for them, organisations are lacking both the impetus to change and the insights needed to design a culture that works for both men and women.

There is considerable research that shows that organisations led by diverse boards, including at least three women, outperform their peer group. Diversity reduces the risk of succumbing to group-think, and the related pressure to “not rock the boat”. And the increased challenge that accompanies diverse ways of viewing the world is our best defence against some of the shocking lapses of ethics that have characterised recent scandals across various sectors of business and politics.

As well as this, there is the need for female role models. Young people frequently decide what they want to do with their lives when they see someone or something that inspires them and captures their imagination. With more women at the top of the professions, girls and young women will be inspired and excited about what it means to be in a position of ultimate responsibility and play an active part in changing the world. When asked if she minds being a “token woman”, Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, responded that she sees herself as a “beacon” not a “token”. We need a lot more beacons in the professions for ambitious young women to follow.

The UK Government’s Think Act Report is a good start, because it is getting corporates engaged publically in the subject of their gender pay. But history tells us that more is required — the equal pay act was after all more than 40 years ago! I believe that until organisations are required to report on their gender pay gap and on how the gender composition of their workforce changes from entry level to the boardroom, improvement will be very hard to come by.