As I said in 2018 when the first gender pay gap data was released, we must be aware that statistics are not always black and white and there is a danger in viewing them as such.

What’s that saying, ‘lies, damn lies… and statistics’? It should be recognised that this dataset doesn’t represent age, experience or equal pay.

The value of the gender pay gap data is an undeniable force for good. But we must be careful not to fall into the trap of pointing fingers at businesses that are actually championing women in the workplace, for the sake of undiagnosed data and easy headlines.

One of my businesses, Boux Avenue, was an easy headline target last year but, worryingly, not one article scratched beneath the surface. As ever, there is a wider story.

Theo Paphitis Retail Group (TPRG) comprises Ryman, Robert Dyas, Boux Avenue and London Graphic Centre, and the first three of those need to report.

Ryman and Robert Dyas both reported significantly more favourable statistics than the ONS for retail in both 2017 and 2018.

Our new data, just released, shows Ryman in particular reported an exact 50/50 split of males and females in the upper quartile. The mean statistic has gone down from 11.3% to 10.8%, and the median is at 3.4%.

62% of all store management roles at Ryman are also held by females and I’m delighted to be able to report that 63% of promotions were also for female colleagues. Our internal career development management programme also had 52% female attendees. You get the picture.

Robert Dyas, my homeware business, is also well beneath the ONS averages for retail, at 12% mean, and 4.6% median. Our commitment to flexible working attracts a higher ratio of females, standing at 54% this year.

Senior roles held by females in stores has risen by 11%, but at 63% male there is obviously further work to be done. Head office promotions found a 50/50 equal split between male and female colleagues, with total promotions for females across the business at 42%.

Business ethos

Looking at the other businesses in my retail group is important in relation to Boux Avenue, because none are run dramatically differently.

Our TPRG ethos is to employ the right talent in the right roles, ensuring this reflects our belief that diversity and equality is a key element of our success.

Boux Avenue is a business for females; for our colleagues and customers. 96% of our colleagues are female (and 100% in stores due to the intimate nature of our products).

There are things we can change and continue to ensure equal opportunities, but there are also things that cannot be changed

The men that we employ have either been recruited into the new warehouse or occupy head office positions – the latter inevitably fall into the upper quartile, tipping the statistics in a way that doesn’t fairly reflect Boux Avenue and its focus on females.

That said, Boux Avenue’s statistics have improved this year, and that is mainly down to one factor.

We now have a Boux Avenue warehouse that attracts both male and females. I am delighted that this also bucks the trend of warehouse demographics and has a heavier weighting of female employees at 79%.

As I said, Boux Avenue is female-driven, evident throughout the whole business. This year’s figures are 57.7% mean (down from 75.4%) and 15.6% median (down from 75.7%), so moving in the right direction within the boundaries of context.

To skew the statistics and be viewed more positively for the gender pay gap data could mean either not hiring any men at all – not good news for the 4% we do – or swapping our store staff for men, also not a good thing for the women on the shop floor because of flexible arrangements that, most importantly, work for them.

We must understand why the statistics for Boux Avenue are different and challenge what lies underneath, rather than jump on to the ‘headline’ bandwagon without full context.

Reality check

Ultimately, there are things we can change and continue to ensure equal opportunities, but there are also things that cannot be changed.

At Boux Avenue we cannot change the very nature of our business. We won’t apologise for the fact we hire 96% women, and that 100% of our store colleagues are female, because we sell lingerie, swimwear and nightwear to mainly females.

Understanding the restrictions upon our data in this area is key and we have increased our focus on this from the boardroom to the shopfloor.

One of the key initiatives we have undertaken in the past year is to become a retail partner for Retail Week’s Be Inspired programme

One of the key initiatives we have undertaken in the past year is to become a retail partner for Retail Week’s Be Inspired programme – almost 30 colleagues have attended workshops, and two are currently taking part in a 12-month Senior Leadership Academy programme.

I was delighted to hear that one of our colleagues, empowered by the content at a workshop, had the confidence to apply for a promotion and is now in a management role.

This is what it’s all about – recognition, development, progression and equality, and that women are as entitled to leadership roles as men, on an equal footing.

So, we must all have a reality check to ensure that the analysis is worthwhile, considered appropriately based on the business context, and ensuring we are not being busy fools.

In essence, don’t judge the gender pay gap data book by its cover. There is always a narrative behind the facts and here at Boux Avenue, and at Theo Paphitis Retail Group, we know that ours is ultimately a positive one.

Be-Inspired-new

Hear more from Theo Paphitis

Join Theo at Be Inspired’s 2019 conference on June 19, for a day of inspirational keynotes and interactive sessions aiming to tackle the big issues impacting women in the workplace. 

To find out more about the conference and Retail Week’s Be Inspired campaign, which aims to encourage and inspire the sector’s future female leaders, visit beinspired.retail-week.com