Susannah Donaldson: Impact of pandemic on gender pay gap reporting in construction
Susannah Donaldson, legal director at Pinsent Masons, considers the impact of the pandemic on gender pay gap figures reported by large construction businesses.
The Covid-19 pandemic has somewhat skewed gender pay gap (GPG) figures reported by large construction businesses for the year 2020-21, with reductions in allowances, and furlough, impacting on the figures reported so far.
Construction has traditionally reported one of the largest gaps in the average earnings of male and female employees and the data underlines there is some way to go. It is particularly apparent that fewer women occupy senior or more highly paid roles within the sector, and it tends to be that the majority of new recruits are predominantly male.
To date, around 118 construction employers have reported their GPG data, including some of the sector’s biggest players, which according to an analysis by Pinsent Masons, showed an average median pay gap between male and female employees of around 20 per cent – a larger average pay gap than reported by the Office for National Statistics for the sector as a whole (11.4 per cent for 2020).
The data also suggested nearly a 20 per cent difference in mean bonus payments to men and women. The GPG at the companies tracked by Pinsent Masons has remained mostly static since the reporting regime was introduced in 2017, only changing by between 1 per cent and 2 per cent in the majority of cases. Many companies have taken advantage of the EHRC’s six-month “grace period” on enforcement action and have not yet reported their data.
The annual 5 April “snapshot date” fell just as much of the UK went into lockdown, with many non-essential workers placed on furlough, while other actions taken to protect financial stability and preserve jobs also had significant, unintended effects on GPG data.
This accounts for some of the anomalies in the reported data. For example, Taylor Wimpey reported a median hourly pay rate in favour of women, with female staff earning £1.18 for every £1 earned by men. The company said this was because predominantly male site staff were furloughed at the time of the snapshot, while predominantly female sales staff were not furloughed until later.
Other companies predicted a “bounce back” in their GPG figures for other reasons. For example, in some businesses, allowances paid to employees working on project sites were temporarily stopped, reducing their earnings and bringing them closer to their base pay levels. This affected more male employees than females and is likely to have contributed to an artificial reduction in their gender pay gap during this reporting period.
Flexible working practices and policies are key to attracting and retaining female staff and improving gender equality, and while there are many roles which cannot be done remotely, it appears that many companies in the construction sector are actively seeking to promote and encourage agile working practices where possible.
Companies have also been engaging with young people through STEM campaigns and outreach programmes, with a view to attracting new talent and increasing the proportion of women recruited for graduate and apprentice roles.
So whilst the GPG 2020-21 data submitted so far may paint a somewhat distorted picture, it is clear that the reporting requirement continues to shine a spotlight on gender equality and keeps up the pressure on infrastructure businesses to address this issue as a strategic priority.