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Construction gender pay gap revealed

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First time publication of employer salary data will make uncomfortable reading for construction bosses looking to recruit more women.

By 4 April, all UK companies with 250 employees or more were required to declare their gender pay gap data.

They were for the first time required to submit information about how much they pay their male and female staff to the Government Equalities Office, which has published the information.

The results showed that although earnings inequality affects all sectors, many firms in the engineering and construction industries are lagging behind the national gender pay gap of 18.4%.

Gender pay gap

Unlike equal pay, which has been a legal requirement since 1970, the gender pay gap reflects differences in the median hourly wage for a man and a woman in an organisation.

At junior levels, the gap is smaller as numbers of men and women are generally more equal.

However, there are fewer women earning high wages in senior roles than men. This skews the numbers and boosts male median pay.

According to the data, several big firms in the industry have gender pay gaps of 40% or more. This means the median hourly rates they pay female employees are 40% less than those they pay men. With a 47.3% pay gap, Breheny Civil Engineering has one of the largest. A spokesperson admitted the data “shows that we need to do more to create opportunities for women to progress”.

Contractor Bouygues UK and consulting engineers Pell Frischmann also returned results showing a median gender pay gap of more than 40%, at 40.9% and 40.4% respectively. Both firms said they were attempting to recruit more women and improve their working conditions as a way to address the pay gap.

Bouygues UK chair Fabienne Viala said the firm is reviewing its maternity and paternity policies to attract more women back to work, while Pell Frischmann HR director Lorraine Palmer said 30% of its graduate programme are now women But do the statistics tell the whole story? Neither the median hourly wage data, nor similar data on bonus pay provide comparative information about job roles, the experience of individual workers or years spent at the company.

Why do the gaps exist?

According to Royal Academy of Engineering diversity and inclusion steering group member and chief executive of Indigo&, Elspeth Finch, although the big pay gaps look shocking, the figures give no clues about why the gaps exist.

“It’s really easy to make assumptions that we know where

the problems are, and if I’m being honest, if we knew what they were then we’d have addressed them by now,” she says.

Finch explains how even the more nuanced pay quartile data fails to give a reliable picture of what is happening.

Pay quartile data supplied to the Equality Office shows the percentage of women working at each of four salary levels within a company.

Data is split into a lower quartile, a lower middle quartile, a middle quartile and a top quartile. An equal number of employees is represented at each level: for example, in a company with 1,000 employees, there would be 250 employees in each quartile. It means the top quartile shows the highest paid and most senior employees of the company.

We all know that the data is not perfect, but it’s giving us a starting point to ask ourselves some really important questions

In general, more women are in the lower quartile and there are far fewer in the top one, which Finch suggests shows a lack of progression for women within firms.

But the results are only based on hourly wages so it is impossible to know whether a woman in the lower middle pay quartile is doing the same job as a man in the middle pay quartile.

Screen shot 2018 04 16 at 16.40.28

Screen shot 2018 04 16 at 16.40.28

But Finch believes the data still has an important role to play.

“We all know that the data is not perfect, but it’s giving us a starting point to ask ourselves some really important questions,” she says.

“It gives us that time to really digest what this reporting said, to really understand what the drivers behind the gaps are, so that when we start looking at actions we can do so in a really informed way.”

According to law firm Pinsent Masons partner Helen Corden, firms need to make a concerted effort to attract and retain women, from more equal gender hiring on apprenticeships and graduate schemes to better maternity packages and flexible working arrangements.

There is not a ready pool of women you can just draw upon to close the gap

“In these male dominated sectors, sometimes they don’t offer these sort of flexible arrangements as readily as other sectors,” she says.

But Corden believes there is no simple answer to closing the gender pay gap in the engineering and construction industry.

“I think it’s really important that people understand, in these sectors there is no quick fix to closing the gap,” says Corden.

“I think one of the things is, there’s not a readily available pool of women, especially in relation to the engineering sector for example. There’s not that ready pool of women who you can just draw upon to try to close the gap.”

Attract and retain

Bam Nuttall chief executive Stephen Fox agrees that the industry needs to attract and retain more women.

“As an industry we’ve done lots of stuff to put people off, or to get people in and then put them off even when we’ve got them in the first place,” he says, citing confrontational behaviours, long working hours with poor flexible working arrangements and unconscious bias as deterrents for women.

The company is an ambassador for Women into Science and Engineering (WISE), a campaign group trying to attract more women into science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM) careers.

Fox describes how the firm’s Women@Bam movement, an internal organisation started in 2011, is trying to boost the profile of female employees.

“Our overriding challenge when we started that was to get more women into senior management,” says Fox.

“If we achieve that, we will achieve other things as a consequence and in parallel.

“But that’s a long game, when the senior management has typically been in the business 20 or 30 years.”

Not all employers reported large pay gaps. Highways England reported median pay gap of 1.4% – in favour of women. A spokesperson said Highways England is “committed to promoting equality and diversity at all levels within the organisation” and will continue to balance pay across its organisation.   N

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I think the key is for individual organisations to identify why the gaps exist rather than focus on the gap itself. It would be interesting to see average pay by years of experience split by gender, which may be a more reliable indicator of whether there was inequality.

    Pell Frischmann's gap is likely to be partly reflective of the fact that it has taken on a high portion of female graduates (30%) which in turn skews their median figures. This perhaps highlights the danger of focusing on a single measures, as a firm which takes on fewer female graduates is likely to have a smaller, which is of no benefit to the industry as a whole!

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