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The construction industry’s gender pay gap problem

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We have written about this before, but the passing of last week’s deadline for all large companies to declare their “gender pay gap” has thrown the issue into the headline once again.

There is a lot of excitement about this and while a lot of it is justified it’s also important to state clearly what is actually being measured here. It is not a measure of women being paid less than men, which is illegal, but of the average salaries in organisations for men and women and the gap between the two of them.  It’s the relative proportions of each sex and the salaries they earn that matter.  Where a company or industry has a high proportion of men in positions that offer high salaries and many women in positions that offer lower salaries, the gap will be large. So far, so obvious. In a (very) few instances the gap is actually in women’s favour, but in the vast majority, and in some industries in particular, the gap is very much in favour of the male of the species.

Nowhere, is this more apparent than in construction.  As has been extensively reported in the trade press and elsewhere, construction is the one of the worst offenders of all when it comes to the gender pay gap.  However, the picture is muddied because different publications are reporting different rates, with some using the median figure and others the mean (average) figure, and some even reporting slightly different figures. 

For example, Construction News says construction is the worst industry sector, whereas the Sunday Times reports that Finance is worse than construction.  Either way, in construction, there is a 22% gap between average pay for men and women, a 24% gap in median pay and a 30% gap in bonus pay.  This, obviously, is because men dominate the construction industry and heaving bricks, cutting wood and clambering about on roofs (amongst everything else) are not considered ‘feminine’ activities.  

It must be remembered that the figures published for each sector are generally averages and they conceal some wide variations. In construction, one major housebuilder’s female employees earn 22% less than its men, but at another women actually earn 1% more than men.  And of course, if you look at some specific instances, the gaps are huge.  Football clubs in England, especially Premier League ones, have a horrific imbalance, given that their players are all men and that women are few and far between and largely in admin or perhaps marketing jobs. At Stoke City, women earn only 8p for every £1 that a man earns.  

Finally, before we beat ourselves up to much about construction, it’s worth pointing out that the recruitment industry doesn’t cover itself in glory when it comes to the gender pay gap, especially when it comes to the issue of bonuses.  To save their blushes I’ll not name the companies concerned, but suffice to say that they are some of the industries’ biggest players and when you see a gap of over 25% in average pay at one firm and several with bonus gaps well over 40%* then it’s clear that there is a lot of work still to be done.

Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment

PS - In my next blog, I’ll consider the impact the reporting of the gender pay gap has had – whether it’s likely to continue to dominate the news or if it’s just a news story on its day, and what, if anything we might (or might not) do about it.


* Source: Recruiter magazine

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