Perspectives

Why the gender pay gap is not the same as equal pay

In advance of International Women’s Day on 8 March, Construction News wanted to interview me as a follow-up to an interview they did in 2014. “Sure, why not!” Well, the “why not” was trying to recall exactly what I said three years ago and reflecting on what, if anything, had changed.

From a personal perspective, lots has changed: I am now a working parent with a wonderfully energetic 14-month-old. But how has the gender diversity agenda moved on and what has changed within the industry?

As the article’s headline (‘Falling number of women on UK contractor boards revealed’) states, in real terms, there has been a drop in the number of women on the boards of UK contractors, in both executive and non-executive roles. This is a disappointing headline but the article doesn’t go on to analyse the boards of consultancy businesses. Perhaps the situation isn’t as bleak as they suggest?

Today sees the introduction of legislation in the UK, which will require all employers with more than 250 employees to publish gender pay information, both on their own website and gov.uk.

The gender pay gap measures the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings (including bonuses) across an organisation. This differs from equal pay, which means that men and women in the same employment performing equal work must receive salary, as set out in the UK Equality Act 2010.

This level of transparency means, for the first time, boards will be held to account by their staff and shareholders. This is great news. Knowing, understanding and owning your numbers is the first step to addressing any problem. However, in an attempt to write sensational headlines, I fear some may confuse ‘gender pay gap’ with ‘equal pay’.

The gender pay gap, particularly in our industry, is likely to show women earn less than men, but that is a function of the roles they fulfil as opposed to us not rewarding people doing the same job equally. For a myriad of reasons, rightly or wrongly, in the UK women tend to do very different jobs: they are more likely to work part-time, hold secretarial positions and so on. Therefore looking at a simple gender pay gap percentage doesn’t tell you very much.

This can begin to be addressed through programmes such as Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (WISE) and Women into Construction. But it’s also a function of wider issues in society: fewer girls taking STEM subjects, gender stereotyped roles and women more likely to be working part-time due to caring duties.

To my mind, we need to focus on equal pay not the gender pay gap per se. Equal pay data is much more relevant. A project manager working in consultancy with similar experience and skills should get paid the same. The latter is likely to show much more progress, and therefore less headline-grabbing discrepancies.

Although it is good to keep the subject in the headlines, I fear that spurious headlines which focus on the gender pay gap may erode the value of the great work that is being done. Let’s see what the new legislation brings.
Women in construction

“To my mind, we need to focus on equal pay not the gender pay gap per se.”

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Barbara Welch, Director - Western Europe & Global Clients, Consultancy

Barbara Welch Programme Director

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