HSBC – Please DO more

HSBC Andrew Carnegie
“As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say.
I just watch what they do”
~ Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie died just over a century ago, after devoting the last two decades or so of his life to giving away his incredible fortune, some $65bn in today’s terms. The phrase above in the photo was the original and is now commonly updated to change “men” to “people”, reflecting societal awareness around gender equity.

I thought of this quote as I readied to write today’s post, which is about watching what one leading company, HSBC, does (or, in fact, doesn’t do) around gender pay equity and so gender pay equality, hence it is with a wry smile that I note the way this quote has morphed from “men” to “people” over time. It changes what the quote says, but now let’s look at that company example.

HSBC – what they say and what they do – gender equality

I recently posted: “HSBC believes a Londoner is a Londoner“, applauding HSBC for taking a stand for inclusivity in this current era of divisiveness based on people’s actual or perceived nationality and ethnicity.

That post featured a billboard ad at a London railway station. A few days later I saw a similar one at a station near Manchester, and tweeted:

This then received a reply from Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director of The Equality Trust:

She then added a link to their report from May 2019: “From Pin Money to Fat Cats: Pay Inequality in the FTSE 100“.

As a note, whilst my daily posts tend to be quite concise and (try to) make only a few points, do know, my dear readers (!) that I spend many hours background reading prior to writing. I’m not an academic, nor do I use academic referencing, however, I do consume vast amounts of academic and other research and source papers and books prior to looking to distil down to the thoughts and provocations I post here daily.

So, I love the work that The Equality Trust does to research data around inequality, including the report here, which reviews, among other key stats, gender pay quality of all of the FTSE-100 companies.

As a baseline in the report: “the Office of National Statistics concludes that the gender pay gap for all employees stood at 17.9 per cent, although it was
considerably less, 8.6 per cent among full-time employees, driven by more women working in parttime jobs, which tend to be lower paid.”

For the FTSE-100, in the report:

“We have identified 268 companies who have reported in both years, who are either FTSE 100 companies or their subsidiaries:

  • Overall, 16 of the companies had a negative gender pay gap (i.e. women were on average paid more than men).
  • One company reported a zero gender pay gap
  • 10 had a gender pay gap of less than 4 per cent
  • 32 had a pay gap of between 4 and less than 10
  • per cent
  • 65 had a pay gap that was 10 per cent or more
  • but less than 20 per cent
  • 53 had a pay gap that was 20 per cent or more
  • but less than 30 per cent
  • 55 had a pay gap that was 30 per cent or more
  • but less than 40 per cent
  • 11 had a pay gap that was 40 per cent or more
  • but less than 50 per cent
  • And six companies had a gender pay gap that was greater than 50 per cent.”

Now back to HSBC.

The highest gender pay gap is a staggering 61 per cent, at HSBC Bank (part of the wider HSBC group). This is not a small organisation where statistics can be skewed by a small number of outliers, they have over 20,000 staff. HSBC asserts under a heading: ‘our pay strategy’

We review market pay benchmarks based on grade, job, business and geography – this helps us to understand pay differences, if any, for similar roles. Our analysis shows that, in the UK, men and women are paid
broadly comparable rates to market.

In other words, they have an unacknowledged ‘high risk factor’ in their pay structure: a pay system linked to the ‘market rate’ that can import broader labour market discrimination into their pay system, where, for example, the market undervalues roles that are perceived as female and more highly values roles which are seen as male. They continue:

We are confident in our approach to pay and if we identify any pay differences between men and women in similar roles, which cannot be explained by reasons such as performance/behaviour rating or experience, we make appropriate adjustments.

Back to the reminder from Andrew Carnegie: “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do”

The report by The Equality Trust, in their analysis of Gender Pay Equality, goes on to further analyse the data in multiple ways. The answer always comes back to the same thing for HSBC. They are, by a standout margin, the worst in the FTSE-100 in this area.

Now, in my article the other day applauding them for embracing cultural diversity, I noted:

As someone who has travelled to over 70 countries, for decades I was used to HSBC advertising in airport and aircraft jetways in ways that showed they understood cultural diversity with the message that they stood out as a truly global bank. In the last year or two, their changing billboard campaigns in London have shown to this metropolis of 10 million people where they stand.

I stand by this, I love the way they have always highlighted that our human differences are wonderful and our strengths. However, again thank you again to Dr Wyporska for highlighting the glaring deficiency in what HSBC actually does (rather than what they say) in the particular and key area of gender.

From this a sudden “lightbulb moment” for me. In all my global travels seeing HSBC ads highlighting their understanding of cultural differences, at no time do I recall ever seeing one highlighting their understanding of and the importance of addressing gender equity and so gender equality.

In closing, I imagine myself in the role of CEO or another leadership role at HSBC. I could find their gender pay gap to be such a yawning chasm as to be impossible to even start to tackle in real terms. However, if I were in such a role I would focus upon the word “more”. We can all do more, we can all “be more”, we can all move in that direction. My piece “Being More” closes with this:

More is an invitation. An invitation creates space for opportunities.

So, HSBC, focus now on what you choose to do about gender equality. Do more. Please.

Also published on Medium.