Closing the gender pay gap: Construction must have its say!

Dr Dorte Rich Jørgensen, Atkins

The deadline for submissions to the government’s consultation into tackling the UK gender pay gap closes on 6 September. Dorte Rich Jørgensen says industry must engage with views to help tackle this longstanding problem.

As part of its election manifesto, the Conservative Party stated that it required companies with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap - the difference between average pay for male and female employees. 

Nicky Morgan, the Equalities Minster recently told the Guardian newspaper: “We are committing to eliminating the gender pay gap in a generation. This is not just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense: supporting women to fulfil their potential could increase the size of our economy by 35%”. 

"Research has shown that businesses with more senior women out-perform their rivals, with 42% higher return on sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity"

Following the Equalities Act 2010, five companies Tesco, Friends Life, PwC, AstraZeneca and Genesis voluntarily published this information and to help identify how other companies can approach this policy, a Government consultation was launched on 15 July, with responses required by 6 September.

What are we doing already?

Evidence with regards to the pay gap in construction is generally limited. However, the ICE’s survey on salaries in 2013 showed that the pay gap for their younger members (up to age 29) is nearly non-existent, but for those aged 45-49, men earn 38% more than women. 

Overall, the survey concluded that women earn 40% less than men, in line with the difference registered in 2010. The survey showed that the gap has only closed by 2% in three years.

Risk or opportunity for construction?

The construction industry may ask: ‘Where is the money going to come from to close a possible pay gap in a low margin industry?’ and ‘How will publishing my company’s pay gap results impact our industry perception?’ 

After all, as we know, there is a skills gap to fill in our industry. CITB’s recent Construction Skills Network forecast suggested an extra 200,000 new jobs will be created in construction over the next five years as the industry expands. 

"Informal, honest and open collegiate support: This makes all the difference!"

At the moment, the drop out of women in Science Engineering Technology (SET) are leakier than other professions and the gender pay gap is wider than in other industries (Smith Institute). Hence, whilst improvements have been made, there is still more work to be done and recruiting and retaining women is a priority for construction companies who need to fish from a wider pool.

Research has shown that businesses with more senior women out-perform their rivals, with 42% higher return on sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity (Bottomline: Catalyst, 2007). So what some perceive as a challenge could actually make good business sense.  

What is a planned approach to closing the pay gap?

Key findings from research commissioned by the Government Equalities Office showed that whilst the majority of employers considered that ensuring there was no gender pay gap was a priority for their organisation, only a small proportion (13%) had a planned approach for reducing the pay gap. This is likely to be true for many in construction too and across the industry we do not engage much specialist support and resources for this agenda. For example in 2008, a city firm of 6,000 people had six full time diversity and inclusion managers help embed equality and diversity within their organisation.

"Overall, the survey concluded that women earn 40% less than men"

However, there are some strategies already being applied within our industry that we could use as part of a planned approach:  

  • Women’s development programme: These programmes raise awareness with women on companies’ approach to negotiating pay.  For example, with upcoming pay reviews, feedback states that men are much more likely to have engaged with their superiors with regards to their pay expectations than women.
  • Line management excellence programmes: conversations around money are tricky. Training needs to be in place to address this skilfully and with awareness.

In addition we need to embed the right behaviours and investments to make this happen:

  • Informal, honest and open collegiate support: This makes all the difference!
  • A clear message of sponsorships and advocacy from the top down through the organisation is essential.
  • More specialist support, resources and funding for equality and diversity is needed.

These things combined will help nurture a culture that will help companies to close the pay gap in a supportive and planned way.

Get invoved: the Government consultation is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/closing-the-gender-pay-gap

Dr Dorte Rich Jørgensen in principle sustainability engineer at Atkins and Construction Industry Council Diversity Panel Member representing CIBSE

This article was originally published as a CIC blog which features a large variety of articles on diversity and other important issues affecting the construction industry. Visit www.cic.org.uk/blog/.