Don’t judge the Gender Pay Gap data book by its cover...

As I said back in 2018 when the first Gender Pay Gap data was released, we must be aware that statistics are not always black and white and there is a danger in viewing them as such.  What’s that saying ‘lies, damn lies...and statistics’? It should be recognised that this data set doesn’t represent age, experience or equal pay. However, the value of the Gender Pay Gap data is an undeniable force for good, but we must all be careful not to fall into the trap of pointing fingers at businesses that are actually championing women in the workplace, for the sake of undiagnosed data and easy headlines.  One of my businesses, Boux Avenue, was an easy headline target last year, but worryingly not one article scratched beneath the surface. As ever, there is a wider story.

My group, Theo Paphitis Retail Group (TPRG), comprising of Ryman, Robert Dyas, Boux Avenue and London Graphic Centre and three of those need to report; Ryman, Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue.  Ryman and Robert Dyas have both reported significantly more favourable statistics than the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in both 2017 and 2018. Ryman, in particular, reported an exact 50/50 split of males and females in the upper quartile this year.  The mean statistic has gone down from 11.3% to 10.8%, and the median is at 3.4%. 62% of all store management roles at Ryman are also held by females and I’m delighted to be able to report that 63% of promotions were also for female colleagues. Our internal career development management programme also had 52% female attendees. You get the picture.

Robert Dyas, my homeware business, is also well beneath the ONS averages for retail, at 12% mean, and 4.6% median.  Our commitment to flexible working attracts a higher ratio of females, standing at 54% this year, and senior roles held by females within stores has gone up by 11%, but at 63% male there is obviously further work to be done.  Head Office promotions found a 50/50 equal split between male and female colleagues, with total promotions for females across the business at 42%.

Looking at the other businesses in my retail group is important in relation to Boux Avenue, as none of my businesses are run dramatically differently. Our TPRG ethos is to employ the right talent in the right roles, ensuring this reflects our belief that diversity and equality is a key element of our success.

Boux Avenue is a business for females; for our colleagues and customers. 96% of our colleagues are female (100% in stores due to the intimate nature of our products). The men that we employ have either been recruited into the new warehouse or occupy head office positions; the latter of which inevitably fall into the upper quartile, tipping the statistics in a way that doesn’t fairly reflect Boux Avenue and its focus on females.

That said, our statistics have improved for Boux Avenue this year, and that is mainly down to one factor.  We now have a Boux Avenue warehouse that attracts both male and females, and I am delighted to report that this also bucks the trend of warehouse demographics and has a heavier weighting of female employees at 79%. As I said, Boux Avenue is a female-driven business; evident throughout the whole business.  This year’s figures are 57.7% mean (down from 75.4%) and 15.6% median (down from 75.7%), so moving in the right direction within the boundaries of context.

To skew the statistics and be viewed more positively for the Gender Pay Gap Data could mean either not hiring any men at all...not good news for the 4% we do, or swapping our store staff for men, also not a good thing for the women who work on the shop floor because of flexible working that, most importantly, it works for them.  

We must understand why the statistics for Boux Avenue are different and challenge what lies underneath, rather than jump onto the ‘headline’ bandwagon without full context.  Ultimately, there are things we can change and continue to ensure equal opportunities, but there are also things in a business that cannot be changed. At Boux Avenue we cannot change the very nature of our business. We won’t apologise for the fact we hire 96% women, and that 100% of our store colleagues are female, because we sell lingerie, swimwear and nightwear to mainly females.

Understanding the restrictions upon our data in this area is key and we have increased our focus on this from the boardroom to the shopfloor.  One of the key initiatives we have undertaken in the last year is to become a retail partner for Retail Week’s ‘Be Inspired’ Programme, which has seen almost 30 colleagues attend workshops, with two currently taking part in a 12-month Senior Leadership Academy Programme.  I was delighted to hear that one of our colleagues, empowered by the content at a workshop, had the confidence to apply for a promotion and is now in a management role. This is what it’s all about; recognition, development, progression and equality - that women are as entitled to the leadership roles as men, on an equal footing.

So, we must all have a reality check to ensure that the analysis is worthwhile, considered appropriately based on the business context, and ensures we are not being busy fools. In essence, don’t judge the Gender Pay Gap data book by its cover. There is always a narrative behind the facts and here at Boux Avenue, and at Theo Paphitis Retail Group, we know that ours is ultimately a positive one.