Sophos’ Gender Pay Gap Journey

The gender pay gap is usually described as a comparison of the average pay between women and men. While the difference between the earnings of women and men continues to improve, there remains disparity at a high level in how men and women are paid, even when all compensable factors are controlled.

With this in mind, several years ago, we completed our first global gender gap pay analysis. This audit reviewed annual salary review increase percentages and compa-ratios by function, gender, and performance levels.

Here at Sophos, we have an established global job levelling framework that allows us to value roles against the right internal and external compensation benchmarks thereby supporting equitable decision-making for employees in similar roles at similar levels. We use this same framework for all genders. Admittedly, prior to our first gender pay gap analysis, I thought we had all the right systems in place and as a result, the pay gap wouldn’t be too bad here. It’s not like HR has secret lower compensation ranges that we pull out and apply for non-males.

I was wrong. We had a gender pay gap and it was larger than I could have imagined. I can guarantee any company who is not actively measuring this has a very similar issue. My first advice to companies is to measure the problem. You can’t solve what you can’t see.

What followed were the questions of “why did this happen?”, “what can we do differently?”, “how do we prevent it from happening again?”, and the hardest question, “where do we find the budget to fix it?”.

It was interesting when we dug deeper into why it was happening. Upon further analysis we realized that once people were working at Sophos, all genders received fair and equitable annual salary increases. However, we found women were coming in with lower new hire compensation at offer stage. It was unclear if this was due to an unconscious bias, different negotiation tactics, or lower existing compensation reference points. No matter what the cause, as a company we had an operational gap that was potentially leading to salary discrepancies and that needed to be fixed.

To help address this issue, we introduced a new approval process. We required senior management and me (CHRO) to approve any new hire offers that were below the compensation mid-point of the role being hired for. Approvals were tightly managed with few exceptions. Our statistics show an improvement in equitable new hire salaries since we implemented this new process for all genders, and it has helped us as a company maintain fair to market compensation pay.

Our next challenge was how to find budget to fix the problem. This is one of the most overwhelming tasks for most companies, who can’t simply snap their magical budget fingers and make it go away overnight. One thing we quickly realized was that it was very difficult to fix this problem via the annual salary review. There just isn’t enough budget to go around and potentially creates unfair practices of giving significantly less to others in order to fund higher increases for women. This could lead to difficult conversations with deserving high performers, regardless of gender.

Instead, we purposely budgeted for and held off-cycle reviews throughout the year with a major focus of fixing the gender pay gap. We continued to measure and audit throughout the year and even changed our salary review materials so leaders could more easily identify gender pay gaps in their compensation recommendations.

It did not happen overnight, but after a few years of dedication to fixing this problem, we finally did it! As an HR professional, I was so incredibly proud of our accomplishment, I was ready to sing from the rafters.

However, before I had a chance to write this article for social media, six months later, our next gender pay gap audit came back and I was shocked to see things out of whack again. Not nearly as significant as before, but still a small gap.

So off we went again to review what happened. Nothing intentional, but we discovered we had several major reorgs in departments that comprised more men than women. Roles had grown in these reorgs and, as a result, we provided more off-cycle increases to men than other genders who had not been impacted by enhanced job changes.

This was a very humbling lesson for me, and an important one. Any time you make unplanned compensation changes where not everyone is involved, you have the potential to create a pay gap situation. The reality is that the gender pay gap is not a one-time problem that can be fixed. It is a constant effort that requires ongoing analysis of pay and operational practices.

As a result, we continually monitor our hiring, promotion, performance, and compensation processes, and conduct extensive analyses to identify potential gaps and differences not readily supported. I am incredibly proud that, as part of this process, we have seen a shift in promoting women into more senior roles at Sophos. While we may not be able to immediately solve all problems, we are continuing to make headway in identifying and rectifying the frictions that women may face in managing their careers here at Sophos. Our longer-term goal is to broaden our compensation analyses and reviews beyond just gender, supporting an inclusive culture across all our global sites.

If you have not yet taken on the problem of the gender pay gap, I encourage everyone to start this conversation this International Women’s Day and beyond.

This article originally appeared on Amanda Mallow’s LinkedIn Pulse account and has been re-published here with permission. 

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