Addressing the gender pay gap should be industry priority

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 12.39.45  Andrew Wade, senior reporter

The recently published salary list of top BBC broadcasters has highlighted the gender pay gap like never before. Opening up Auntie’s books was always going to provide ammunition for the organisation’s critics, but most expected the focus to be on overpaying the ‘talent’ in general. Instead, the glaring disparity between male and female presenters has become the hot topic, and the conversation has taken on a life of its own beyond the Beeb.

female engineer

Long recognised as a major issue in the engineering industry, the gender pay gap is now being exposed across a variety of sectors, from education and healthcare, to finance and farming. These figures are finally coming to light as a result of new regulations that require organisations with more than 250 employees to report on pay disparity between men and women. Though just recently introduced – and with an initial reporting deadline of April 2018 – several companies have already begun to publish figures.

Firstly, credit should be given to all companies that are being proactive and delivering reports well in advance of the cut-off. However, the figures we’ve seen so far have not made for comfortable reading, particularly in the engineering sector. Of the 40 employers for whom data is currently available, just one could accurately be described as an engineering firm, with another two being manufacturers. Naturally, there is a danger of reading too much into figures from such a small sample group, but longstanding trends suggest the numbers may be indicative of the wider sector.

Bilfinger Industrial Services UK is a provider of integrated technical services to the process, petrochemical and power sectors. Just one in 14 employees at Bilfinger is female, with women’s average (mean) hourly pay 32.6 per cent lower than men. That gap can largely be attributed to the fact that the vast majority of women in the company work in the lowest pay quartile, where they account for 21 per cent of the workforce. As pay grades increase, women virtually disappear. In the lower middle, upper middle and top quartiles, they fill just 2 per cent, 1 per cent and 3 per cent of roles respectively.

Now, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that the process, petrochemical and power sectors have traditionally been dominated by men, and it is an extreme case even among the overall gender gap in engineering. However, the almost complete lack of female representation in the middle two quartiles – where one would expect to find the majority of engineers – makes for stark reading.

Come next April, this is a pattern we will likely see repeated across this subsection of industry, and my intention is not to admonish Bilfinger, but rather highlight just how deep the wider structural problems are. In fact, as the company’s report highlights, Bilfinger has four women in senior business roles, represented in the upper quartile. The presence of these women at the top of the tree means the average women’s bonus is significantly higher than the average men’s (184 per cent mean/ 82 per cent median). Throughout the company though, 19.6 per cent of men received bonus pay, compared to just 13.2 per cent of women, with many in the lowest quartile presumably missing out.

The Engineer Salary survey 2017

Bilfinger’s report states that it intends “to integrate gender pay gap considerations into future reviews of pay and reward”, a welcome acknowledgement that representation is not the only issue here. As the BBC salary list indicated, women are often being paid less than their male counterparts for essentially doing the same job.

The Engineer’s 2017 Salary Survey revealed that, on average, female engineers earn 10k a year less than men. That’s a fairly sobering statistic for any young women considering a career in the sector, and it is this that must be addressed first and foremost. By taking real steps to address the gender pay gap, engineering can enhance its position as a progressive meritocracy, where ability is the primary barometer. In doing so, it might finally start attracting more women into the profession, something it has long hoped to achieve.

Additional reporting by Louise Fordham at Employee Benefits