Mind the Gap; What can the Gender Pay Gap Reporting REALLY tell us about Equality in the Construction Sector?

Jennifer Cotterill
Jan 19, 2018 · 4 min read

Gender Pay Gap reporting comes into force in 2018 with all private sector employers with over 250 employees required to report on their gender by 5th April 2018.

Those of us familiar with the sector can guess what the reports will reveal. As a heavily dominated male industry the gaps will no doubt be large in favour of men. In 2018 this is clearly an issue which requires addressing. However, despite being committed to seeing equality in the workplace and pleased to see the government tackling this issue through legislation, I am not entirely sure that the figures are going to tell us anything we do not already know when it comes to the construction industry.

We know that the figures are going to be large; traditionally women have not been encouraged to join the industry and many have not found a career in the sector attractive. This has meant that men have filled the available leadership positions accumulating higher pay resulting in an average higher hourly wage for men than women. However, with women projected to make up 26% of the construction industry workforce by 2020, it would be expected that the gender pay gap in the industry should begin to significantly close as we approach the 2020’s.

More women entering the industry is clearly a good thing, however to assume that a greater number of women entering the industry will led to an organic closure of the gender pay gap in construction is at best naive. The gender pay gap found in the industry has many causes with the main factors being a divided labour market, discrimination, unequal caring responsibilities and men being promoted to the highest paying roles. This means that solutions will need to go beyond simply recruiting more women.

Women are more likely experience discrimination at work; research has revealed that male applications for jobs are more likely to be looked upon favourably for jobs than female applicants, with male applicants likely to be awarded higher salaries. This is likely to be as a result of unconscious bias and traditional ways of working.

Research by the Fawcett Society also found that women are more likely to be in unpaid caring positions for children or relatives resulting in a greater number of them being in part time work (42% vs 14%) which can limit salaries and progression opportunities.

Furthermore, men tend to be in leadership and highest paid positions. This might be for a number of historical reasons such as a smaller number of women in the industry, however a combination of factors such as discrimination, women taking ‘career breaks’ and unconscious bias at play may also be to blame.

Finally, Britton, Shephard, and Vignoles, (2015) found that women in who hold degrees also face a pay gap; 10 years after graduation the gender pay gap sits at 23%, meaning that from the age of 31, women’s salaries are falling behind those of men at a similar age. Research also suggests that the pay gap widens as women age.

It is clear that a number of complex factors combine to result in some of the gender pay gaps I am sure that we are about to see within the construction industry when figures are reported in a few months time. Recognising this, employers and industry leaders must look deeper than these figures. We know that there will be significant gaps but asking why do we have these gaps will be far more fruitful than focussing on the size of the gap and promising to recruit more women to address it. In looking at the gender pay gap, companies need to dig deep into the structural inequalities of their working practices.

Consideration needs to be given to recruitment and retention practices; is it feasible to anonymise gender so only the skills are considered in deciding whether to interview? Are talent pathways in place which recognise those with additional caring responsibilities? Are flexible working patterns in place and promoted by the organisation? Who takes up flexible working as an option and how many requests are granted? Are the reward structures in place adequate? These are clearly not exhaustive questions but give a flavour for the direction of the analysis which needs to take place to bring about change in the gender pay gap.

Whilst I do not believe that the 5th April is going to bring any major surprises for the industry, I do believe that the industry can and should do better in closing the pay gap between men and women. It is an opportunity to examine practices across the company, ensuring that the reasons for why the gap is so big are understood and reacted to by organisational leaders. Gender pay gap reporting is here to stay and the most successful organisations in the future will ensure that they take the time to understand the unique reasons for the gender pay gap and develop a comprehensive action to address these. Organisations that fail to do this will see their gaps stay the same or make very small gains. In a future age of equality with the eyes of the country upon gender pay gap reporting can your organisation afford to be one that demonstrates little change in difference between men and women’s pay?

Jennifer Cotterill

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Making bids & internal comms successful. MSc Psychology student. Interested in org culture, L&D, change, workplace health, diversity. All views my own