Following on from WPP reporting a widening median UK gender pay-gap for 2018, Mark Read has admitted that the figures being enshrined in public record have forced the business to take action faster than it might have in the past.
"It's probably helpful that these things are made public as it forces us to address the issue and look at it more than we would have done," he said during at Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (Isba) annual conference on Tuesday (5 March).
WPP's median pay-gap stood at 14.9% (an increase from 14.6% last year) while the mean gap was 23.7% (down from 25.5%). Both were in favour of men.
The median — which accounts for the difference in pay between the middle-ranking woman and the middle-ranking man in a company — is typically a more representative figure as the mean can be skewed by a handful of highly paid employees.
The UK's national average median gap currently sits at 17.9%, down from 18.4% last year.
Read conceded that WPP had "to do better" and said it was "committed to promoting more women within the organisation".
Though WPP's figures indicated its pay-gap was widening, Read stressed the dataset WPP submitted "didn't refer to the average of 2018" but was instead a "snapshot" of the year from April onwards.
Before Read's time?
Alluding to the fact Sir Marin Sorrell was still in the chief exec seat until Read took over in September 2018, Read added: "If I wanted to, I would say it was before my time, but I don't want to say that.
"I would say we need to do better and we're committed to promoting more women within the organisation."
He pointed to Karen Blackett, WPP's UK country manager, as a "staunch proponent" of closing the gap within the business. "We've been talking about what more we can do to address it," he explained. However, he didn't go into detail on what the blueprint looked like.
Read did, though, reiterate his previous view that he wasn't sold on the benefits of setting targets and quotas. Though he admitted such initiatives were "not a bad thing", reiterating that the UK government's decision to make it mandatory for businesses with over 200 employees to publish their figures was forcing the business to act.
WPP's creative agencies reported some of the worst pay-gap figures in 2017, with JWT London having the biggest gap of 44.7%, followed by AKQA (30.5%), Grey (24.6%) and Ogilvy & Mather (24%).
But some of them noted improvement in 2018. JWT (which has now been merged with Wunderman) reduced its median gap by 6.4% while AKQA and Ogilvy reduced its by 8.9% and 2.7% respectively.
During his Q&A, Read also discussed how WPP is preparing for possibility of a no-deal Brexit, though he was coy in his response.
"It's hard to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, logic tells us that won't happen and if it does we'll just have to deal with it. There's no reputable economist that thinks it will be a good idea in the short, medium or long-term. We just have to prepare for it as best as we can, and that's all I can say."
Additional reporting by Imogen Watson.