` Closing the UK gender pay gap at Unibail Rodamco Westfield | Reward and Employee Benefits Association (REBA)
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04 Nov 2021
by Dawn Lewis

Closing the UK gender pay gap at Unibail Rodamco Westfield

At the beginning of October, gender pay gap reporting became compulsory again following a six-month grace period due to the pandemic. We caught up with Sasha Brenner, senior reward and benefits manager at shopping centre developer and operator Unibail Rodamco Westfield (URW), to hear about their latest gender pay gap report and the progress they’re making in closing the gap.

 

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The 2020 UK gender pay gap figures for URW, were as follows:

  • median hourly pay gap: 34.3%
  • mean hourly pay gap: 35.5%.

The main reason behind these figures is the under-representation of women in more senior roles, as Brenner explains: “While URW pays employees fairly for work of equal value in the UK, women are under-represented in senior roles within our business, and this is reflected in our UK gender pay gap statistics. This is not only an issue for URW, but is a sector-wide issue across property and construction, and one that we are committed to tackling at both levels.

“The number of people employed within our business in the UK is relatively small, so we expect our gender pay gap results to fluctuate over the coming years. Therefore, when tracking our progress, we intend to look not just at the results we must, by law, produce, but also at feedback gathered from our business.”

She explains that construction as a whole is still a predominately male industry, and has a large gender pay gap as a result. Although this is slowly changing, there is still a long way to go and there are stereotypes that need to be broken down.

“To improve the gender pay gap in the long term, we have to work on making sustainable changes, focussing on breaking down stereotypes from a young age. Children need to be taught that they can follow any profession they wish, rather than promoting just the ‘stereotypical’ roles for men and women. University courses that are typically male dominated also need to made more appealing to women,” explains Brenner.

“By working closely across industry and with young people in our communities at a grassroots level, we hope to drive meaningful change to make gendered wage disparity a generational issue of the past.”

Taking a grassroots approach

It is no small task to try and influence change across a whole sector and, as such, URW is taking a multi-pronged approach to tackle perceptions and encourage more women to work in construction in the UK.

It is helping deliver generational change by actively promoting STEM subjects to school children across London through its STEMbassadors employee volunteer programme. It also holds events and backs initiatives such as WISE’s ‘People Like Me’ training programmes, which encourage inclusivity in STEM.

URW is a member of the Real Estate Balance, an association started by a group of females in real estate who are passionate about addressing the gender imbalance in our sector,” explains Brenner. “We have signed the association’s CEO Commitments on Diversity to not only deliver change internally but across the industry. For the last four years URW has signed the EW Inclusive Culture Pledge, which is a public commitment to building our diversity maturity.”

In conjunction with this, the business ensures that it raises awareness internally about the issues related to gender pay gap and what it’s doing to help make improvements. Brenner says that this communication helps to encourage support and buy-in from managers when making changes to policies and practices, while senior directors have diversity and inclusion targets as part of their yearly objectives.

Making changes internally

URW has also made changes internally in the UK to improve its gender balance, including significant changes to its flexible working polices and recruitment practices:

  • flexible working options are offered at all levels of the organisation to attract and retain women and make senior roles more appealing
  • senior leaders have attended coaching on flexible working, focusing on how to develop teams that are working flexibly
  • those involved with recruitment have undergone unconscious bias training
  • contracts with external head-hunters contain a clause stipulating that URW requires a minimum of 30% of females on any shortlist.

“We are aware that improving gender pay gaps is not a quick fix and it will take time for us to close ours in a significant way,” explains Brenner. “Those gaps could actually get worse in the short term as companies employ more women in junior (lower paid) positions, but this will drive a long-term gap reduction. The aim will be to train and upskill women so they can move through the ranks and attain senior positions.

“Although delivering major changes takes time, we are confident that we have the policies and procedures in place to really make a difference. We recognise that we must continue to focus on this as a priority for our business, our industry and our communities to deliver the step-change needed.”

Why closing the UK gender pay gap is such an important priority for URW

For URW gender equality, diversity, inclusion and fairness are fundamental parts of its business strategy.

“It enables us to attract and retain the best talent in the industry regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin or disability,” says Brenner. “It helps to ensure that we continue to have new and fresh ideas in the business with diverse thinking and perspectives.”

She adds that the business is focussed on ensuring that employees reach their full potential and it continuously invests in its people to achieve this.

A culture that promotes inclusion, values difference, supports work-life balance, and works flexibly to support the needs of all employees is also central to this idea. And, in turn, this generates transparent and open conversations about the need to tackle the gender pay gap.

“We will continue to make improvements to drive long-term change in our company, industry and community, and to ensure we accelerate the development of women into senior roles, whilst supporting our male employees,” says Brenner. “Changing the culture in our industry will not be easy or immediate, but gender parity is something we must all work together to achieve. This will benefit our people, our business, our industry and our broader community.”

Linking DEI with corporate social responsibility

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) forms a key part of URW’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy: ‘Better Places 2030’. This is a commitment to ensure full equal opportunities in HR practices and processes across the group. In 2019, to complement this initiative, it launched a Diversity and Inclusion framework called Be You at URW, which focuses on four key pillars:

  1. Leadership and Engagement.
  2. Inclusion Policies and Procedures.
  3. Employee Development.
  4. Learning and Culture and Employee Engagement.

“This framework helps to drive and further strengthen our focus on diversity and inclusion, ensuring it is always high on the agenda across all regions of URW,” says Brenner. “Through this new framework we have continued to develop our diversity and inclusion action plan through making enhancements to existing procedures, creating new initiatives and further raising awareness of programmes available within the business to encourage and support diversity.”

Driving long-term sustainable change

Closing the UK gender pay gap in an industry that is traditionally male dominated requires changes beyond internal policies and practices. It needs a holistic approach that tackles the grassroot causes of the gap and creates a long-term sustainable change – URW are doing just that.

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