Zara Nanu says her software provides the data needed to tackle pay inequality across gender, race and even region. She shares some of her findings and how her Soviet background inspired her
Currently, the World Economic Forum predicts it could take 217 years to close the global gender pay gap, but Zara Nanu, a tech entrepreneur, thinks she can do it in less than 20.
Nanu grew up in Chișinău, the capital of Moldova that was part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. Now, she’s in Bristol where she’s been based for 11 years, tackling pay inequality with Gapsquare, her cloud-based software business.
Gapsquare uses machine learning to analyse a company’s gender pay gap and flag opportunities to close it as they arise. For example, it can highlight when certain employees are not progressing as fast as their peers, as well as when external male candidates are recruited into more senior roles. It can also analyse at department level to see if there are certain grades which are more difficult for women or ethnic minorities to pass.
To date, she’s analysed the wages of more than 270,000 employees in the UK, and Gapsquare counts Vodafone, Condé Nast and Serco among its clients. The company is presenting in France this month, having recently finished a series of meetings and presentations in Silicon Valley, the belly of the global tech beast. “I think America is ready for us,” she says, “maybe more so than the UK. In the Bay area there are so many more women in tech than the UK.”
Nanu points to Soviet attitudes to gender equality as having a formative effect. “We had quotas around women in parliament, quotas around representation of women in any sector. Childcare was free, so my mum could go back to work six months after giving birth. When I came to the UK [in 2007] it felt like, to some extent, I was going back in time in terms of gender equality.”
The child and grandchild of teachers, an educational career appeared likely: even as she undertook a PhD in politics at the University of the West of England, she thought she’d end up in educational policy. Her experience working with a female trafficking prevention programme in Moldova helped further shape her thinking. It focused on increasing awareness, while providing training and livelihood skills that would eventually lead to employment opportunities.
“But it could be a vicious circle,” she says. “The women ended up in sweat shops being paid a minimum wage, and trapped in a cycle of poverty. I thought we needed bigger thinking about how to move women away from this and give them opportunities to develop better careers.”
And therein lies Gapsquare’s raison d’être. The cross-sector gender pay gap in the UK is roughly 20% (though there is a large discrepancy for BAME women: according to Gapsquare’s data it equals around 70%; a result, Nanu suggests, of a “clustering” of lower-paid jobs for women in this demographic). She has plenty of work to do.
But across all sectors Nanu has encountered pockets of resistance, mainly, she says, “because some men feel threatened by the agenda. Gender equality can be a very political issue. It can be very emotional. But we remove all that and help companies look at equality through the lens of data.”
The data Gapsquare produces doesn’t just look at the difference between men and women, but also looks at ethnic, regional and cross-sector discrepancies to provide a comprehensive picture, that compares the relevant data.
“For example, in the UK the gender pay gap is highest in London and lowest in Wales, but the lower pay gap in Wales does not mean more equality. It is simply a reflection of the lower paying jobs.”
A problem often faced is one of cultural apathy. “You get people saying: ‘This issue is much bigger than me. There’s not much I can do. It’s cultural. It’s societal.’ But we break the data into small manageable chunks so it’s not this huge mountain to climb.”
She points to engineering companies that have started robust campaigns to attract more women. Interestingly, this had a negative pay-off in the short-term. “These are entry-level jobs with lower wages, therefore it will actually have a negative impact on their overall pay gap in the first few years. But ultimately the aim is for them to progress into senior roles. So it’s about a long-term commitment, which builds trust, loyalty and a committed workforce.”
The desire for change is certainly there, especially with diversity-conscious Generation Z and millennials who are set to make up about 60% of the global workforce by 2020.
Earlier this year, more than 10,000 companies in the UK submitted their gender pay gap data for the first time. Construction was the worst offending sector with an average median gap of 24.6%, followed by finance at 24%. “It’s now about the race to eradicate that because in two, three, four years’ time, employees are going to start questioning why the pay gap isn’t moving.”
From The Guardian,
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