Opinion: ‘We’re making headway, but we can’t be complacent’

Cancer
Michelle Mitchell chief executive Cancer Research UK

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK

When we put together our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy – which we published a few weeks ago – we knew accountability had to be one of our key principles. A strategy is only impactful if it’s implemented, and measuring progress is how we will hold ourselves to account.

So I’m pleased that we’re publishing our gender and ethnicity pay gap reports today. This is the first time we’ve published our ethnicity pay gap reporting – which takes us further than legal requirements, but I feel is an important way to keep ourselves accountable.

Both reports we publish today show that we’re making some headway, and this is the result of concerted effort over the past few years to improve the diversity of our workforce. But these only tell part of the story, and we still have work to do.

I’m pleased to say we’ve made progress in closing our gender pay gap. Our mean gender pay gap is now 15.0%, down from 15.8% last year and 18.7% in 2017, when we first reported it. We have taken further steps towards gender parity in technology, with women making up 41% of the team – putting us far ahead of the national average at 19%. And we increased the proportion of women at director level and above to 57%, past our 50% target the year before.

We have a pay gap in favour of ethnic minority employees, meaning people from ethnic minority backgrounds are paid on average 9.5% more than white employees.

But we aren’t at all complacent, for two reasons.

The first reason is that on their own, these statistics don’t tell the full story. We have relatively low numbers of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in our team, for example, and from talking to our people, we know that colleagues from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to feel like they belong at Cancer Research UK. I am committed to changing this. We want everyone to feel included, and supported to thrive. We have also been through a huge amount of change this year because of the pandemic, and these figures are a snapshot from April 2020, which do not take those changes into account.

The second reason we aren’t complacent is we still have a long way to go. Our gender pay gap is reducing, but it’s still there, and our median pay gap has increased. This is because we’ve opened new shops and superstores. Our retail roles are some of the lower paid roles, and are predominantly female – which is in line with the rest of the retail sector.

So, our work continues. We want to be a more inclusive organisation, and a charity where everyone feels like they belong, and are supported to do their best work. And these pay gap reports can be a useful metric of our progress.

As you’d expect, we have targets in place to increase ethnic diversity and the proportion of women in leadership positions. But we’re also working on our recruitment and selection processes, improving our flexible working offer and consulting with external experts who will challenge us and help us improve. We’re also focusing on some new initiatives this year, such as a race fluency programme, and reverse mentoring – where senior leaders are matched with junior employees from underrepresented groups.

I hope these initiatives will, in time, positively impact our pay gaps as well as our people’s broader experience of work at Cancer Research UK. In time, I am sure that these steps will move us further along in our mission too – it’s well proven that more diverse organisations perform better, and to reach our ambitious goals of beating cancer, we’ll have to optimise every single aspect of our work.

In sharing these reports, we intend to promote transparency in how we’re doing today and set ourselves up to take greater steps forward tomorrow. We’re moving forward, and so I’m optimistic about our future – but we’ve got to keep this momentum going.

Michelle Mitchell is the chief executive of Cancer Research UK

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