Topics: Growth, Leadership, Payroll


Leading Women in Payroll: In Conversation with Samantha Mann

Written By Rishmita Aich

Leading Women in Payroll: In Conversation with Samantha Mann

The widening gender pay gap, the throes of remote working and the plunge in female employment rates may show that women don’t not always find their power in numbers but there are some female leaders whose path breaking careers in the field of payroll & policy are reversing the stereotypes.

During the week of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating women in payroll who shattered the glass ceiling with their versatility, resilience, sheer talent and hard work.

With a career spanning over 40 years, Samantha Mann, former CIPP Policy & Research Technical Lead has now returned to work in practice at Armstrong Watson LLP, to support the payroll team in the role of Payroll Training Consultant.

From solving payroll challenges for clients to advocating for fair payroll laws, Mann has been a payroll professional, a change-maker and now a trainer to empower young payroll professionals to find their own success. Our conversation with Mann brought out some thoughtful insights, advice and trends in the payroll industry and what the future looks like for women in payroll.

Q1. You once said in an interview that “I fell into payroll” and then you went on to become a master of the craft. When did it hit you that Payroll was your calling?

That’s an excellent question. I fell into it simply because it was a part of another job. I didn’t leave school thinking ‘Oh, I am going to work in payroll.’ I didn’t realise then how important that small job of doing weekly wages was going to become.

But having payroll on my CV meant that when I moved into accountancy, whenever a payroll challenge came in – I was asked to deal with it. Payroll is like marmite, you either love it or you hate it. My colleagues in accountancy and bookkeeping didn’t like doing payroll so I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to work with clients and sort out different payroll challenges – which for someone like myself who likes change and likes to learn, it was great.

It was around the mid 90’s. I’d been working in accountancy and bookkeeping, payroll was a small part of what we did within the organization. We working in the voluntary sector, we were grant funded to provide accountancy services and training to Charities and Third sector organizations in the Midlands, but we weren’t grant funded to provide payroll services.

So when we got to the point that we needed to generate more income to support the free services— delivering payroll services was the obvious option. So I was asked to set up and run the payroll service.
Any voluntary organisation that came to us for payroll support, we had a whole range of services offered to them, so they could use our outsourcing services for a fee – which freed them from the task (and worry) of payroll processing – or we could deliver training so that they could do it themselves.

At the time I was still working on the accountancy side, so producing annual accounts as well as supporting the payroll bureau because it was just growing. But there came a moment in time where I realised that to stay up to date with accountancy obligations and to stay up to date with payroll, I need to make a choice — and my choice was payroll.

Q2. What were some of the most memorable highlights of your career so far and what were the challenges if there were any?

The biggest challenge at that point was persuading my boss who like so many, have a belief that payroll is a doddle, payroll is easy – it’s just pushing buttons on a computer – isn’t it? Nothing could be further from the truth.

Whilst studying to be an Accounting Technician, I came across an advert in the AAT magazine – it was an advert for British Payroll Manager’s Association. I did some checking and found out there was a qualification I could work towards — this was the Diploma in Payroll Management.

I had a battle on my hands persuading my line manager that this was a legitimate use of resources. I put business case, after business case and finally after 3 years I was given the approval to approach the Institute of Payroll and Pensions Managers (now CIPP) to enroll to study for the diploma – hard work but worth the effort.

It’s only when you look back that you can see it’s the keys points were you made those decisions. If you’d ask me now, ‘what do you want to with your life?’ I still arguably don’t know – I just happen to enjoy working in payroll and value hugely the contribution it makes to employers and to the economy.

Q3. While at CIPP*, you had an interesting position – to debate new and existing payroll legislation. Any interesting stories/ memorable moments about when you were most proud of being an advocate of fair payroll laws?

*CIPP stands for the  Chartered Insitute for Payroll Professionals

There were a lot of memorable moments whilst working within the policy team which provided an opportunity to engage with the government to give the view of the payroll profession and to bring about change.

The most rewarding opportunity for me however was the privilege of working with my fellow payroll professionals. It was those individuals who were going to make legislation work, my role was to represent their voice — obviously I could use my experience as well, but it was their voice and their experience that was the most important.

We would gather views and experiences through surveying the payroll profession and also through meeting with members and bringing members together with government officials.


How the Policy Team debated National Living Wage & IR35 Reforms

Source: The Legal Partners

For example, when BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) published a consultation on National Minimum Wage – specifically salaried hours work and the impact of salary sacrifice, we arranged a Think Tank roundtable which brought together CIPP members and interested parties with officials from BEIS to discuss the consultation proposals and also the different challenges that salary sacrifice and salaried hours gave to employers as they sought to comply with national minimum wage regulations.

All of the surveys and all of the comments raised at roundtables worked towards affecting real change to the benefits of payroll professionals and the employers they serve.

Source: Financial Times

When you consider IR35 and the recent off-payroll working reforms, there have been many consultations rolled out to the public sector and then onwards to the private sector. On occasion we worked together with the CIPD and other stakeholders to consult with our members to provide the view of payroll and HR professionals. A positive outcome of the latter reforms consultation was to ensure that small engagers were not captured by the ongoing reforms.

We were pleased to see when the consultation response came back from the government, the decision had been made NOT TO include small engagers. Our voice, along with many, succeeded in making a successful argument… for now at least.

Q4. Financial times released a report last September that concluded that more than three out of four UK companies pay their male staff more than their female staff. What do you envision for Britain’s Gender Pay Gap problem in the next 10 years? Do you think remote working will widen the gap or close it?

The Gender Pay Gap is a big challenge worldwide. The legislation introduced by the UK Government, requiring employers to report their gender pay gap, has lead the way in trying to address a very complicated problem. Gender pay gap is not about equal pay – there’s more to it than that, family policies, flexible working and equality in all areas of employment can impact an employer’s gender pay gap.

By publishing your results on both the company website as well as uploading to the government provided website goes a long way to making employment practices more transparent. It can help to attract and retain high value employees for example young employees leaving university as well as more experienced and highly qualified individuals to decide where to work. It adds an element of comparison for them, and can tell them a lot about a company’s culture and values, particularly helpful employers also publish additional information to further explain their results, together with plans of how high pay gap results are going to be reduced – whilst the report isn’t mandatory it can be a powerful tool.


The Impact of Remote Working on Gender Pay Gap

Source: Financial Times

The Coronavirus pandemic as had a significant impact on all areas of the economy and the gender pay doesn’t escape either, last year’s mandatory requirement was lifted in recognition of the pressure facing payroll and HR professionals, who were working hard to deliver furlough and the Job Retention Scheme. This year, following calls for another lightening to the employers burden, the Government Equalities Office have confirmed that enforcement activity has been delayed for an additional six months to allow employers more time to report their pay gap results.Flexible working has a role to play in narrowing the gender pay gap. The greater move to home-working (due to the pandemic) could actually support this move and already we see employers taking action to make homeworking a default position in favour of attending the workplace. That is not to say that all employers have embraced the concept of permanent home working, but it has provided a widespread opportunity to road test for many.

One significant challenge with home working is visibility. It is critical where a mix of homeworking and office working is offered that policies are in place so as to ensure equality across the genders and also to ensure that all employees, regardless of their location are treated equally and inclusively.

There are more elements to narrowing gender pay gap – such as shared parental leave and pay. Women taking leave to look after their babies can still be deemed to be a disadvantage when it comes to career progression. Employers have a long way to go to recognise and support that essential and important career break. Men cannot have the babies – it is a biological impossibility – but they can be encouraged through legislation and employment policies and attitude to share the load with parenting. Countries that support both parents equally in taking time off to build families have less of a problem with gender pay gaps.

Q5. What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the payroll industry? How has the payroll industry changed in the last year with the advent of the furlough scheme and the impending IR35 law?

We went to the pandemic and the most immediate announcement directly affected the payroll practitioners because it directly affected the pay that one receives.

Furlough was introduced that would see an employee being laid off work but in return receive 80% of average pay to a cap of £2,500 month, payroll professionals immediately had to learn a brand new way of working with no consultation and in the short term very little guidance. Since then there have been over 212  different iterations of guidance on this subject – it has changed constantly and therefore the need for guidance to be monitored frequently has never been so important.

Even though Payroll professionals are adapt to deal with change we went into the pandemic with no spare resource. No one working in payroll prior to March 2020, had a few hours to spare here and there – quite the opposite. Keeping the cost of payroll administration low has always been a priority for a business and this remains the same across all industries, even where payroll is the primary function of the business, keeping the cost to the minimum is seen important which in turn sees a reduction in spare capacity.

We went into the pandemic with a profession that didn’t have any spare capacity – and then we loaded on to them the obligations to deal with furlough, flexible furlough calculations, changes to SSP, arrange of exemptions for taxable benefits and expenses – all hugely welcome in support of employment and economy but with little to no recognition of the great pressure this has caused.

As a result during 2020, we lost a lot of great payroll professionals. I know that very few payroll professions have not been impacted by CJRS scheme. The impact of the pandemic has been huge and continues to be so.

Q6. You wrote a piece last year on AccountingWEB on “What Payroll in 2020 could look like.” What payroll trends do you envision for this year?

We know that off-payroll working, which was postponed from last year, will happen this year and so medium and large organisations in the Private and Third Sectors will be adapting processes to deliver the latest raft of off-payroll working reforms.

Public sector bodies of all sizes will be adjusting to slight changes as well.

For employers operating student loans, they’ll may also be adapting to the introduction of Plan 4 for Scottish Student Loans – this will see a higher repayment threshold to that of Plan 1. HMRC will notify employers where affected employees will need to move from Plan 1 to Plan 4 and the New Starter Checklist has been updated to take account of this new Plan to operate.

For employers who also deal with the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS), there will be new powers for the HMRC to restrict adjustment to deductions where they suspect the employer is claiming CIS deductions incorrectly.

There will be modest increases across the board for the National Minimum Wage and the eligibility age for National Living Wage will be reduced from 25 to 23. New rates are payable for pay reference periods that begin on or after 1 April 2021.

At this time of the year payroll professionals will be revisiting their payroll records to establish which employees will need to be taken out of the salary sacrifice scheme where they are impacted by these increases.

Government launched a consultation last year that introduced the concept that for employers who recruit veterans, they enjoy a one year employer national insurance contributions (NICs) holiday. 2021-2022 will see a transition year where the secondary NICs continue to be paid in year but can be claimed back at the end of the year.

Full details of how this scheme will operate have yet to be published but this gives another reminder as to how powerful the cost of employer NIC savings can be to drive employer behavior.

Q7. What would your advice be to all the young women who want pursue a career in the payroll industry? What are your three top tips for them?

#1 If you like change, payroll could be for you. I would encourage anyone who’s coming out of university now, who has been studying accountancy or bookkeeping or HR – give payroll a go.

Yes it is like marmite so you’re either going to love it or hate it. It tends to be quite an instant thing!

For me payroll provides a great balance. I believe that you have accountancy, which for me was all figures (and I know accountants will be screaming at that, I know it also much about relationship with clients) and then you have Human Resources which is about people (and again HR professionals will be screaming, there’s a lot more to it than people). But to me payroll gives you a nice balance of the both. You’re dealing with people, working out their pay but it has a nice mix of the number work as well.

#2 My advice is give payroll a go, but don’t be put off too quickly. There are lot of differences in payroll — working in-house in payroll is very different to working in a bureau. Equally, different sectors offer different challenges, you could work in the football industry or in banking, in retail, hospitality, schools and public authorities – all bring about their own nuances and require different skills. Equally there are also many different types of job in payroll – not just processing.

Whilst a good grasp of how to calculate payroll manually is important – it is rare to be in a position where you operate payroll without technology and Payroll Software – thanks to Real Time Information (RTI) and so if working in technology sounds attractive there will be many roles in Cyber and IT open to someone with Payroll skills, if education appeals to you – good trainers and writers are always in demand, as are experienced payroll professionals who can support employers with a range of consultancy processes ….the list is almost endless.

#3 Don’t be afraid to stand up and be counted – change is a constant in payroll and all changes will impact the employer ….not just the processes …make sure your voice is the first to be heard when changes to payroll are planned – particularly if those changes result in the need for more resources.

A lot of the new policies require communication and team work to be a success – gender pay gap for example requires the payroll professional and HR professional to work together to achieve success.

Similarly, off-payroll working can be delivered successfully but only when payroll, HR and finance professionals work together to make it so.

So, stand up and be counted because what you do is important.Don’t be afraid to show your worth – it isn’t just a numbers thing, it isn’t just pushing buttons – what you do is important because if you weren’t doing it, people won’t be working – because as much as many employees enjoy their work, ultimately they work to pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads.

                                         Watch the interview highlights here:

About Guest Speaker:

Samantha Mann is the Payroll Training Consultant at Armstrong Watson LLP and she is also a celebrated columnist at AccountingWEB. With a career spanning over 40 years in the payroll industry, Mann appears widely on webinars, industry events and trade publications to offer her insights on the payroll industry.

Reach out Samantha Mann at:

AccountingWEB Bio:

*Note from the Editor: This blog is a part of a special series that features “Leading Women in Payroll”. Stay tuned for more updates on this or contact our experts for discussing your payroll outsourcing needs.

Leading Women in Payroll: In Conversation with Samantha Mann

ABOUT Rishmita Aich

As a Journalist turned Marketer, Rishmita has developed a unique perspective when it comes to analysing & covering the changing landscape of the accounting industry. Influenced by Andrew Sorkin and Stephanie Flanders, she aspires to deliver souhgt-after advice, fresh updates & detailed analysis of HMRC legislations through her work for accounting practices to make better, informed decisions. She has spent the last 3 years creating insightful content for accountants, and is currently most passionate about the work she is doing to educate accountants about outsourcing. More Posts(23)  

Originally published Mar 17, 2021 12:03:43, updated March 17 2021

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