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Mind the (gender pay) gap

mind the gap 2

The end of March marked the deadline for public bodies to report their second set of annual gender pay gap statistics, while private companies were due to report in the first week of April.

One year on from the first set of figures, things seem to have got worse for construction firms and infrastructure bodies.

Both companies in charge of the UK’s biggest infrastructure projects have worryingly reported widening pay gaps this time around.

High Speed 2 (HS2) promoter HS2 Ltd reported a median gender pay gap of 28% for 2018/19, an increase of three percentage points on last year.

Meanwhile, Crossrail Ltd reported its median gender pay gap as 34.5%, a 1.3% jump on its previous annual report.

Roads fared no better than rail. Last year Highways England had a negative pay gap, with median salaries for women exceeding those for men. Its median gender pay gap was -1.4% last year, well below the 2017/18 nationwide average of 18.4%.

But this year the median gender pay gap from the roads body has jumped 11 percentage points to +9.6%.

Many other employers in the civil engineering and construction sectors including Interserve Engineering, Laing O’Rourke and Yorkshire Water reported widening gender pay gaps over the last 12 months.

Last year all UK firms with 250 or more employees were, for the first time, required to report the gender pay gaps within their organisations.

Most organisations work out the gap by calculating the difference between the median hourly salaries earned by male and female employees. The median pay figure is the mid-point in the organisation’s range of hourly earnings.

If an organisation has a 10% gap, it means that median pay for women is 10% less than it is for men. If the figure is negative, for example -10%, it means the median pay for women is 10% higher than it is for men.

The figures must be calculated using a specific “snapshot”’ date, which is 31 March for public sector organisations and 5 April for businesses and charities. That data must be published within a year of collection.

On its website, Highways England downplays the change by comparing two different statistics: the 2018/19 median gap of 9.6% and the 2017/18 mean gap of 5.4%. The mean gender pay gap is essentially the difference in the overall average hourly salaries earned by men and women. It is used less as it can be skewed by a small number of higher salaries.

Gender 1 (1)

A more accurate representation would be to compare both medians – this shows the 11 point jump.

Elsewhere in the industry, many companies reported minor or no changes in their gender pay gaps.

The disappointing set of results comes despite all corners of the industry actively lobbying and calling for better diversity and gender representation in the sector.

One such lobbyist, Costain chief executive and current ICE President Andrew Wyllie, reported only a minor positive change in his company’s gender pay gap.

Network Rail, in its Supply Chain Charter commits to “value and harness the diversity of our people”. But it also reported no change in its gender pay gap, which is currently 11%.

But is poor gender pay performance a sign of better recruitment of women into junior positions in the industry?

Women into Science & Engineering chief executive Helen Wollaston, who heads the campaign to increase gender balance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects said that increasing recruitment of women into junior positions such as apprentices could be skewing figures.

“We can expect to see the gender pay gap widen before it shrinks for some male dominated companies,” she said. “This will happen if they have been successful in their efforts to attract more women into their organisations through their apprenticeships or graduate schemes.

“The challenge now is to provide a positive experience with development opportunities so that these women stay and move up through the ranks.”

Looking at the percentage of women in the lower pay quartile, HS2, Crossrail and Highways England all reported an increased percentage of women making up their lowest paid workers. HS2 in particular reported that 58% of its staff in the lowest pay quartile were female, a 17 percentage point jump on the previous year.

This may not be conclusive proof of why the gender pay gap seems to have worsened in the last year, but it does show that efforts are being made to open the industry to women.

Gender 2

“It is important that you develop a culture that supports and increases inclusion so that women want to work for you, they want to stay working for you and they can see opportunities to progress through the management structure,” Wollaston adds.

Long-term change in the industry will take time however, and it may be some time before the fruits of labour can be harvested, but it must not dampen employers’ efforts, says Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines.

“[The Network Rail] gender pay gap stands at 11.2%, which is better than the UK average, but still a long way from where we want it to be,” he says. “We believe that a diverse workforce is a better workforce. It will take time,but I truly believe that reducing the gender pay gap will help us have the right people in place to deliver the railway passengers deserve.”

Meanwhile, an HS2 Ltd spokesperson said the company was working on a pilot scheme to remove identifying information from job applications to reduce potential bias. This is called blind recruitment.

“HS2 Ltd has put in place a number of measures to help redress gender balance within the organisation and the industry. We have piloted blind recruitment which fully anonymises applications, and this has resulted in dramatic increases in shortlisting and hire rates for women.”

So while the gender pay gap widening makes ugly reading and is somewhat inexcusable, the push to remove bias in recruitment and open more junior positions up to women is a silver lining to cling on to.

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