#EmbraceEquity with Group Managing Director, Shelley Frosdick

This year’s International Women’s Day focuses on #EmbraceEquity. The campaign theme seeks to get the world talking about why “equal opportunities are no longer enough” – and can in fact be exclusionary, rather than inclusive. The focus has shifted, to recognise that not all individuals are the same, and that different needs, or adjustments should be given to support equal opportunities.

Equality and equity might be relatable terms but in practice, they have very different meanings, whilst achieving equality might be the destination or objective, equity is how you achieve it. Providing resources or opportunities to individuals to reach their desired outcomes.

As Group Managing Director of The PHA Group, my co-MD Stuart and I are responsible for over 110 employees, all with individual needs who develop and operate in their own unique way.

I have worked in the PR industry for nearly two decades, and I am proud to say that as an industry we are starting to make great strides to achieving gender equality. This hasn’t come easily and there is still much to do, and there are of course still many cases where women are disadvantaged, but I do believe it’s important to take a moment to recognise how things have changed and for the better.  Groups like Women in PR, our industries governing body the PRCA and PR Week have all played a part in placing more focus on Equality, Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace and encouraging conversation, analysis and raising awareness.  This is also true of the many agencies that make up our industry.

As we all know though, conversation isn’t enough, it is the action and opportunities that we put in place for our employees that make the difference and will ensure equity is achieved. We regularly request feedback to understand what our workforce truly needs. It’s this feedback that helps to inform the strategies and activities our People & Culture, and culture teams then put into action, giving everyone the opportunity to develop.  You have to listen to be able to move forward.

We have always tried to take an individual approach to the support we offer our staff, recognising that not everyone will progress or develop in the same way, nor do they have the same lives outside of work.

In February 2022 I became a parent for the first time to a little boy.  The whirlwind that is becoming a parent hit me hard, as it does most new parents, and over the last 13 months I have learnt a huge amount about myself and have a whole new level of respect for every working parent.  The phrase ‘the juggle’ makes it sound easy!

I have a new sense of connection with colleagues that are parents and have a different sense of appreciation for the parents that work for us and continue to deliver outstanding work, despite the full-time job they also have outside of PHA.

The focus on equity as part of this year’s IWD is so important as it recognises how people access opportunities in different ways.  Whether its training, career pathways, flexible working or hybrid working we have to give enough flexibility for each individual to work and develop in the way that’s right for them. Giving equal opportunities with a big dose of flexibility.  We also have to look at our Culture, lead by example and create a workplace that openly recognises and celebrates the individuality in its workforce.

It has been nearly a decade since PRCA Director General, Francis Ingham, suggested that a degree of sexual inequality still pervades in the PR industry. In the PRCA’s PR Census 2013 it indicated that while 63% of the PR industry is female, male board directors and partners of consultancies outnumbered female board directors and partners by more than two to one.

Fast-forward and some progress has been made in the industry, with the gender pay gap decreasing. The PRCA’s PR & Communication Census for 2021 identified that the gender pay gap was at 12.7%, significantly lower than the figure in September 2020, which was 21%.

I’m incredibly proud that 60% of our Senior Leadership Team is female, many of whom have progressed through the business from Executive roles. We also have 59 % of parents on our SLT, with 24% of these working part-time.

We voluntarily publish both our Gender & Ethnic pay gap in our annual Open Conversations report and have a robust process in place to benchmark salaries across the business twice a year, reviewing data from the PRCA, internal feedback and recruiting partners to ensure we’re in line with, or pay better than market rates.  Our mean gender pay gap is 4.58% whilst the median is 4.29% and whilst there is room for improvement, which we are addressing, I’m incredibly proud of how we support and recognise our female talent.

We will shortly finish a project that has re-focussed all our job descriptions, appraisal process and career pathways to give greater clarity to all staff on how they can progress.  This coupled with the ability to work flexibly (we require only 4 offices days a month) alongside flexible start and finish times and a training programme that is tailored to levels will we hope, give every individual the support and opportunity that’s appropriate for them.

As a mother to a son, and an aunt to a niece, more than ever embracing equity matters to me.  I will bring up my son to respect and champion everyone he meets and I hope that as he and his cousin grow up they do so as equals, supporting each other and both believing and knowing they can achieve anything they want, regardless of their gender.  At the ages of 13 months and 15 months it’s a level playing field and we owe it to both of them to make sure it stays that way.