Procter & Gamble, the multinational consumer goods company that sponsors the U.S. Women’s National Team, announced after the World Cup that the company would be donating $529,000 to help make up for the disparity in pay that the team receives in relation to their male colleagues. The gesture was significant, demonstrating the way that corporate sponsors can step in to change the culture around women’s athletics — and women in general — but only a week later, a troubling report was published that shone a spotlight on the company’s own internal pay gap.
The company initially announced their public largesse through a full-page ad in the New York Times Sunday paper that called upon the U.S. Soccer Federation to do the right thing. “Let’s take this moment of celebration to propel women’s sports forward,” the ad reads, simultaneously advertising Secret deodorant. “We urge the US Soccer Federation to be a beacon of strength and end gender pay inequality once and for all.” A week later, according to a Procter & Gamble report on its UK employees, the company reported that women who work in the Procter & Gamble UK division make nearly 30 percent less in hourly wages than their male colleagues.
The sad part of the report is that it’s not all that shocking. It’s not uncommon for a company’s public actions and private policies to contradict one another in message or in spirit. Earlier this year, we saw this play out for Nike when several prominent track athletes publicly outed the company for not offering any semblance of maternity leave to support their dedicated employees, instead docking pregnant athletes’ pay and cutting off their access to health insurance until they were able to get back onto the track. Many of these women faced the dilemma of having no salary or health insurance as new mothers or forgoing spending time with their new child and not allowing their bodies to heal properly following childbirth. These revelations were set against the backdrop of Nike’s inspiring ad campaigns that called upon female athletes — and women-at-large — to “Dream Crazier,” with the new mother Serena Williams as their poster child.
Marketwatch cited the important distinction between a “gender gap” and “equal pay gap;” whereas the USWNT contend they are receiving less pay for equal work, a gender gap considers the average pay for employees across the spectrum of work. If upper management at a company, for example, is dominated by men, then women in that company will have lower wages, having not broken into those better-paying positions. At Procter & Gamble, the data suggests that the latter is true, with women making up nearly three-quarters of the company’s lowest paid positions.
If Procter & Gamble wants to better support women who excel at what they do, they would be wise to follow up their inspired donation to the USWNT with internal policies that reinforce their public commitment to equal pay. Megan Rapinoe summed up her thoughts about the role that corporations can play to Meet the Press shortly after learning of the Procter & Gamble donation. “[Our sponsors] are some of the most powerful corporations, not just in sports but in the world, and have so much weight that they can throw around. And I think that they just need to get comfortable with throwing it around.”