Last International Women’s Day we posted the steps we were taking as leaders of Whitespace as part of our response to #ChooseToChallenge.

In the post we recognised there was a lot of work to do, but we shared our approach and thinking as a resource for others. Today we are sharing the progress we’ve made in the hope it may encourage other businesses to take their own steps to #BreakTheBias.

What we achieved in 2021

As explained last year, for a variety of reasons (past salary, urgency, availability, tenure, and many more) our salary structure wasn't fair – people were getting paid differently for doing the same work to the same standard. We needed to fix this.

On 18 February 2021, in an all-agency meeting, we shared the variance in pay across six different seniority levels. For some levels our pay ranged from 20% less than our agency average for that seniority level, to 28% above. A range that was too large to just represent differences in experience. We shared a plan for how we would use revenue growth in 2021 to level up pay.

Then in April 2021 we started to act. We calculated the average salary for each level of seniority and experience across the agency and then ensured every team member earned at least the average. This immediately reduced half our pay gaps.

Three months later, we benchmarked our salaries against ‘outside London’ levels, increasing our baseline salaries for each level of responsibility and experience. Again, we increased the salary for all Whitespacers who earned less than these baselines. The result was that 60% of the team earned the same baseline salaries.

By the end of 2021, over 75% of the team were earning the same salary for the same job level and experience. It wasn’t easy, some team members didn’t receive an increase in pay in 2021 and challenged our approach, but ultimately it was the fairest thing to do and was supported by the majority of the agency. In a survey of our team in October 2021, our score for the question ‘our company is committed to equality’ increased to 82%, up by 9% from 2020. A result we’re very proud of.

While we don’t have an up-to-date figure for our gender pay gap, we know that by paying everyone at the same level of seniority and experience the same, we are removing bias and imbalance, be that gender or any other factor.

Moving forward

An area where we still need to make progress is the gender balance of our senior team, we are still top heavy with male leaders. We’re mentoring and coaching our female talent to ensure they are inspired, encouraged and supported, to become at least 50% of our future leadership team.

This is also something dentsu, our global network is working on. This year dentsu UK reported that 57% of the workforce in the creative part of the agency is female, with a 50/50 split in the senior leadership team. Part of this progress is being driven by our employee network, ONE, which focuses on promoting and celebrating gender equality across our business, by providing bespoke events and coaching.

We believe that ensuring women's effective participation at all levels of decision making will help us build a more successful and sustainable business and have positive effects in wider society.  We know there is more still to do, and by introducing new measurable targets, we aim to provide focus and direction and ensure we hold ourselves accountable to meaningful progress over the next five years.

James Morris, CEO of Creative at dentsu UK shared that it was a priority of his to ensure that women were being actively targeted for senior positions. He also shared the commitment dentsu has for promoting a healthy work-life balance, this is something we also heavily champion here at Whitespace, with a number of our team being parents with caring duties or other commitments they must honour. It’s vital as a business we can empower each other to bring our authentic selves to work, and we pride ourselves on a culture where people can find the flexibility that works for them.

Breaking the bias

We are committed to achieving at least 50% women on our leadership team at Whitespace and continuing to level our pay. With our next round of pay reviews we expect to level up over 85% of the agency, something we are incredibly proud of achieving in just over a year.

As per 2021, for some reading this, we are aware our situation won’t be relevant. If you work in a large organisation with fixed salary bands then you’ll wonder how we got ourselves into this situation, which is fair!

If you are in a new business, do learn from our mistakes and aim for fixed salary banding as soon as possible. But if you are in the situation, we were a year ago, then hopefully the above shows that you can be brave and make significant steps to #BreakTheBias. And if you have some insight that could help us or have any questions, please do get in touch with either of us. 

By Jodie Baynes, Head of Brand, and Phillip Lockwood-Holmes, Managing Partner.