Show Us The Money

4 Ways to close the pay gap in Construction

The UK Government now requires UK businesses employing 250 people or more, to report on the Gender Pay Gap (GPG), but what does this actually mean, and, why are we comparing workers engaged in different roles?

The measurement of the Gender Pay Gap is about understanding and illustrating the bigger picture. What it demonstrates is the broader gap between men and women in terms of their average earnings regardless of their role and title and is therefore different from the Equal Pay issue. The GPG can be expressed across a company or collated by sector as recently published by the UK Government by Sector. According to government figures, so far, 10,669 companies have submitted data to the programme representing 80% of large UK businesses.

It is beyond disappointing to see that Construction had one of the widest pay gaps of UK business sectors. To many this may not have been surprising, the pay gap for construction is 23% and as we know it’s not the most diverse sector with only around 13 percent of the workforce being female.

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However, what this data demonstrates is that the problem is pernicious and operates across businesses and sectors. Even in gender balanced or majority female organisations and sectors, the gap in reward persists. And even worse if you factor in the pay gaps that exist for people who fall under other protected characteristics such as ethnicity or disability which create multiplier effects, such as reduced access to education, employment or progression opportunities.

So, what can the UK construction sector do to address this? Firstly we need to better understand the structures, that are formally and informally maintaining the status quo.

Equal pay isn't just a women's issue; when women get equal pay, their family incomes rise and the whole family benefits.
Mike Honda

Four Ways to address gender pay gap in construction

  1. Change the industry’s view on “presenteeism”. Opportunities to work flexibly in construction are growing but they compare poorly to other sectors. As a majority male industry the mistaken assumption that all men want to work full time (plus additional hours just to get the job done) has created a culture where presenteeism prevails. Those who need flexible working arrangements are either considered unsuitable for roles or not committed. The industry could change this by elevating flexible working by making it the default option.
  2. Improve recruitment and promotion processes. Understanding and eliminating unconscious bias is a huge part of the challenge, but I believe that a broader understanding of skills recognition (beyond the technical) also needs to be embedded into processes of recognition and reward. A diverse staff team brings new skills, lived experience and perspective. At present this is often not seen as added value but as one which subtracts value.
  3. Review and share the hiring and promotion record of those responsible for decision making. Senior ownership and accountability for monitoring these processes will reveal any gaps between the intentions of the organisation and the individuals responsible for enacting them.
  4. Encourage and incentivise movement between support and coordination/management roles. I believe Gender Pay Gap reporting is also revealing the lack of female leadership and for many a lack of progression routes for women working in construction. Those who are not engaged directly in technical delivery play significant roles in business support. I have lost count of the number of women who tell me that when they share with their organisations that they have been inspired to retrain, take on more responsibility or move into more technical areas they find this pathway blocked to them. Huge amounts of talent and potential are being wasted by a lack of progression pathways inside construction organisations. We need to address the divide between business support and “technical” roles by incentivising and encouraging ambition and supporting women into management and leadership.

Leaders in the construction sector have long bemoaned the skills crisis impacting industry, which in the near future could seriously impact growth. To paraphrase one of the most quoted and iconic movies of the 90s, Jerry Maguire, it is time for the sector to demonstrate a commitment to diversity that goes beyond good intentions and “Shows [us] the money”, because I believe that by supporting, encouraging and fairly remunerating diverse talent we can attract and upskill the people desperately needed to contribute and enhance the built environment.