Mind the pay gap – let’s take a closer look at what’s really happening

09 Feb 2018

The gender pay gap has been a hot topic for years, dominating discussion in the media and in boardrooms. Last October, a review of the salaries being paid by the BBC revealed that men are being paid 9.3% more than women. About two-thirds of stars earning more than £150,000 are male, compared to one-third female; the top seven earners on the list of the corporation’s best-paid stars are all male. Clearly there is still a lot of progress to be made in terms of gender equality and achieving equal pay is one of them.

According to the annual figures released by the Office for National Statistics, the gap between what male and female workers earn – based on median hourly earnings – fell to 9.1% in April 2017, from 9.4% a year earlier. It was 17.4% in 1997 when the ONS first collected the data. While there is a downward trend, more than 10 years on, the gap is still refusing to close. In fact, a report from Deloitte claims that, at the rate the pay gap is moving, it won’t close fully until 2069. That’s pretty disheartening stuff, even for the optimists among us.

In a bid to close this gap, the government now requires companies with over 250 employees to collect and publish data on the gender pay gap, gender bonus gap and a breakdown of how many women and men get a bonus. The aim is to publish the names of companies which are failing to achieve gender parity. It will reveal how widespread the gender pay gap is and will enable comparisons with other companies. With April 2018 set as a deadline for companies to publish their figures, so far over 500 firms have already done so – and a large number of them have revealed gender pay gaps of over 15% in favour of men for mean hourly pay.

How does the pay gap look in PR and Communications?

With so much media attention, we were optimistic that we would be able to report a narrowing of the pay gap in PR and Communications in our Annual Salary Guide. However, there has been no change since we carried out our last survey (2015/16). There is still a £10,000 pay disparity between male and female specialists in PR, and it becomes noticeable among PR professionals as early as 3 years into their careers.

Findings from our Aug 2016 - Aug 2017 survey show that when it comes to in-house corporate communications teams, the pay gap is most noticeable at Senior PR/Communications Manager level (on average, 9 years into their career) where the difference averages out at a staggering £15k in favour of the male employees! However, by the time men reach Global Head of Corporate Communications (say 20 years into their career), we calculated an average difference in basic salaries of an incredible £75k in their favour. Clearly the gap is widening as the years go by.

With agencies, we see a similar pattern – by the time a corporate and financial communications professional has reached Associate Director level (on average, 9 years into their career), the gap averages at £10k. By the time a man reaches Director/Partner level in corporate and financial agencies, the gap reaches a massive average of £60k in his favour!

Why is the gap so big?

A proportion of the gap can be attributed to the fact that more men are in senior roles in companies, which means they are in jobs which have a higher salary attached to them, and also because more women work part-time, which is lower paid per hour.

The difference between what men and women get paid widens as women get older, new research shows. The Office for National Statistics found differences were smaller at younger ages, but increased from 40 onwards, reaching a peak between 50 and 59. It also found the gender pay gap was entirely in favour of men in every occupation – PR and Communications, included.

The ONS said the increased pay gap for older women could be explained by taking time out, possibly to have children. It added that when they modelled the factors that influence pay, the results showed that both men’s and women’s pay grow for most of their lives. Overall, women’s pay grows less than men’s and also stops growing earlier than men’s pay.

The problem with promotions…

The gender pay gap is not only about men and women being paid differently for doing the same job. It’s also about men being present in greater numbers than women the higher up the organisation you go. This gap begins to open up at relatively junior levels and widens – primarily because men are more likely to be promoted. According to our survey, 46% of women in agencies got promoted compared to 53% of men in the same time period. That’s a 7% difference. There was an even bigger difference in-house with 33% of women receiving a promotion and 48% of men – a clear gap of 15%. Our male PR professionals are not only getting more money for doing the same job, more of them are getting promoted.

Promoting men ahead of women is keeping us all back. Diversity delivers better results, better culture and better decision making. Employers need to get on board with reporting on their recruitment and promotion policies as well as how much they pay their men and women. Transparency and targets are what we need to deal with stubborn problems like these disparities in pay and promotion.

Flexible working isn’t working well enough

There are a number of unique challenges that women face when climbing corporate ladders compared to their male counterparts. Many women who have children find adhering to standard office hours incompatible with childcare provision: for most working mothers, arriving at 9 and leaving at 6 is impossible if you have any kind of a commute. Flexible working simply isn’t being flexible enough in our client service industry and as our survey showed, 80% of communications professionals (men and women) ranked this aspect of their working culture as either important or very important. How can we expect working mothers to juggle so much, push for promotion and aim for the board when there are still employers not offering any flexibility in working hours? 33% of respondents to our survey who don’t receive any form of flexibility at work.

The huge disparity in pay can’t simply be attributed to maternity leave and childcare issues. Women do tend to hide their achievements, or shrink from promoting their skills. They don’t want to seem big-headed, pushy or arrogant so they assume people will notice their achievements without them being pointed out. While this approach may work fine as they pursue the path to Associate Director, when they suddenly have to articulate and prove their worth to a male-dominated board, these female tendencies are going to backfire.

Final thoughts

It’s long overdue – senior management need to address a number of issues, including recognising the challenges and traits women have in and out of work, and work with them to pay them a fair wage for their work, one that’s comparable to their male counterparts. We live in an age of incredible technology where work can be picked up outside of the office with ease. Being present doesn’t mean you are doing a better job. We interview incredible, high achieving women daily and are often shocked by the salaries they are earning.

Listen up CEOs, it’s your responsibility to make the change. There are many ways to make savings in a business, but underpaying your female staff shouldn’t be one of them.

Thanks again to PR Week and Corp Comms Magazine for their recent coverage on The Works Search Salary Guide. For a more detailed insight, download your copy here.

For more advice on salaries and bonuses, or if you think we can help you with a search for a high performing communications professional for your organisation, please get in touch with Sarah Leembruggen on 0207 903 9290.

Salary Survey 2017 - 2018