How are we tackling our gender pay gap?  

A diversity initiative revealed uncomfortable learnings for Future Learn that the company is now working hard to address, says Kathryn Skelton

Last summer, we completed a piece of research, which explored diversity and equality amongst our 113 members of staff. The research looked at some of the characteristics monitored under the UK Equality Act (as good a place to start as any) and some things which could be easily tracked as indicators of diversity, equality and inclusion – such as salaries, role titles, promotions, and training and development spend.

The research showed a number of very important issues that we need to address:

First, we learned there is a significant gender pay gap at FutureLearn.

The gap between women and men in median annual salaries is 27%, which means that the average woman at FutureLearn earns 27% less per year than the average man. Any disparity is unacceptable, but this is also significantly worse than the most comparable national average figure of 18% (across all employees, full- and part-time — check out the UK Office of National Statistics for an explanation of why they use the median as a comparator figure).

Based on the research, it looks like this is due to an imbalance in representation at different levels and roles within the company, rather than unequal pay for the same jobs. However, the next steps are to investigate all three aspects in more detail with the express purpose of reducing the gap in the short term, and in the long term, removing it altogether.

Second, the data isn’t actually good enough to make any judgments about other characteristics such as ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation. So, another next step is to review how this information is collected, then monitor how different groups are treated, from the point where they enquire about a job, through to working at FutureLearn, and ultimately to when, and if, they decide to leave the company.

Third, starting an open conversation has helped us understand the issues even more. For example, our CEO Simon has stood up in front of the whole company and admitted that there’s a problem the company needs to fix. And separate to this, another group has been formed (more on this below) to champion solutions to these issues, inviting input through surveys, workshops and general conversation. These actions have resulted in much more engagement across the company.

Reporting on the gender pay gap will be a legal requirement for UK companies with 250 or more employees from April 2018, and although this doesn’t affect FutureLearn, we believe that being transparent opens us up to external input on these issues, and that sharing lessons along the way can help others.

So, what changes have we made so far?

  • Data collection
    The People Team has started to collect data to help us monitor equality of opportunity within the company – not just gender, but also protected characteristics such as sexual orientation, ethnicity and disability. We’re starting simple, guided by the UK Equalities Act (2010), but once the basics are in place, we can start to be more inclusive and consider other underrepresented groups.
  • Cross-company pay review
    During August and September, our Chief Finance Officer carried out a cross-company pay review to identify any specific instances of unfair treatment in salary, which were then corrected (and backdated where relevant) last month. He’s also establishing more robust guidelines for salary setting and reviews in future.
  • Recruitment processes
    Across the management team, our recruitment and selection processes have been reviewed as these are a significant source of bias in the representation of diverse groups of people in roles and teams. This has yielded a set of simple recommendations which the People Team will translate into checklists and training in the near future.
  • Enhancing our skills base
    Training is now scheduled for all managers, to ensure we’re supporting people who have responsibility for others’ wellbeing within the company. We are also adding a permanent role with human resources and organisational design expertise to the management team, to give professional support and headspace to ensure the company improves consistently in future. If you’re interested in finding out more, keep an eye FutureLearn jobs page for the advert coming out soon.

Some of the conversations we’ve had have been emotionally charged, and honestly, it’s been quite tough at times. But what’s great – even when it’s hard – has been the overwhelming sense that everyone at FutureLearn believes passionately in fairness and equality. And our focus now is addressing the issues as quickly as possible, because this is not an acceptable situation at all.

There’s still a long way to go – but we’ve already learnt some important lessons, and are starting to head in the right direction now.

Kathryn Skelton, Director of Strategy, FutureLearn