One year since the first gender pay gap figures were published, women working in the public sector in England are paid even less than their male counterparts. Whereas public bodies reported a median gender pay gap of 14% last year, analysis by the Guardian shows that far from decreasing, it has increased slightly to 14.1%.
All organisations with more than 250 employees have to publish their gender pay gap data. The deadline for the public sector was 31 March, while charities and companies have until 4 April to report. The median gap is the difference in hourly pay between the employee in the middle of the range of male wages and the middle employee in the range of female wages.
The health service fared particularly badly. Despite a predominantly female workforce and rigorous pay scales put in place more than 15 years ago to prevent pay inequality, men working in NHS trusts are paid 10% more than their female peers. The figures follow revelations last week that female doctors in England typically earn £1,166 less a month than their male counterparts, according to government-commissioned research.
The size of the disparity at individual NHS trusts is also increasing. Whereas last year 19 NHS trusts had median pay gaps of 20% or above, this year 24 did, while 60 had gaps in excess of the public sector median of 14.1%. In all, 125 trusts’ pay gaps have worsened, widening their average median pay gap from 9.2% to 10.1%.
The Queen Victoria Hospital NHS foundation trust in West Sussex reported the highest pay gap of almost 40%, despite women making up more than half of the highest earners and 83% or more of all other pay levels at that trust. A trust spokeswoman said the gap was due to 54 of their highest-earning consultants being male, compared with only 18 female consultants. “This will change as we appoint more female consultants and as our current female doctors progress into more senior roles.” Dartford and Gravesham NHS trust and the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham reported gaps of 28.4% and 27.8% respectively.
But these gaps pale into insignificance compared to those posted by other health providers. Vida Healthcare, which runs nursing homes in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, reported a median gap of 79.3% – the biggest in the entire public sector. It is followed by Suffolk GP Federation with 74.8%. Community Dental Services reported a gap of 61%, and another super GP practice, Modality Partnership in Birmingham has a 60.7% gap, while Intrahealth, which runs GP practices and pharmacies in the north-east, has a median gap of 57.4%.
David Pannell, chief executive of the Suffolk GP Federation, says its gap is due to the “relative lack of women doctors in senior positions within our organisation”, combined with the fact that 95.5% of its lowest earners are women. “We are committed to closing our gender pay gap, but achieving this will take us some time,” says Pannell. “We believe it will require a combination of deliberate actions and a change in our culture, such as senior leadership development programmes and ensuring all our employees are afforded a more flexible working environment. We value all our employees greatly and are committed to making sure everyone is paid fairly for the job they do, regardless of gender.”
According to Nic Hammarling, head of diversity at specialist diversity consultancy Pearn Kandola, women are much better represented at senior levels in the public sector than they are in the private sector. However, even in those organisations where women make up nearly half the senior grades, there is often still a significant gender pay gap. She says this is largely driven by women being disproportionately represented at the most junior grades. “There is an issue with how female talent at the bottom of the organisation is being developed and progressed, but also female talent is often recruited in junior roles with limited promotion prospects.”
She adds that “austerity has exacerbated this issue”. In order to reduce costs, public sector organisations are increasingly cutting mid-management roles, says Hammarling. “This means that promotion prospects are now huge leaps, and for those who are unsure about applying for promotion to start with, this can be very offputting. Secondly, the majority of those in the public sector who work some sort of flexible or part-time contract are women; there is often an assumption (held both by the organisation and its employees) that senior roles cannot be done on a flexible or part-time basis, again resulting in women being less likely to apply, or to be successful in their application, for promotion.
“Thirdly, these cuts mean that, especially in local authorities, the remaining managers will often be responsible for large groups of people. As a consequence, they have less time to spend developing each and every employee on an individual basis. It is all too easy under these circumstances for stereotypical assumptions about who is suitable for more senior roles to creep in, with men and full-time employees becoming even more likely to be considered for the better remunerated roles.”
It is not only the health service that is struggling to improve pay gaps. Like the NHS, many councils, housing associations, police forces and charities have above average median gender pay gaps. In local government, 17 councils reported pay gaps of 20% and above in favour of men, while 96 reported gaps of 10% or more. Tonbridge and Malling borough council in Kent has the worst rate at 32.7%, meaning women working for the council earn 67p for every £1 paid to men, while Babergh district council in Suffolk, Dartford borough council in Kent and Bracknell Forest council in Berkshire all had gaps above 27%. Adrian Stanfield, Tonbridge and Malling borough council’s director for central services and monitoring, says the gender pay gap reflects a “preponderance” of women in lower-paid roles. “The jobs in these two lower pay quartiles are almost entirely administrative and have historically attracted significantly more female than male applicants. While we do not have sufficient information on the nature of roles and salary levels in other councils to be able to comment on differences in pay levels between them and us, the fact that this council has outsourced services such as refuse collection and street cleaning, which have attracted a predominantly male workforce (where there are often lower paid jobs filled by men in the majority) may also be significant,” he says.
“In an attempt to overcome the bias of tradition we continue to look at strategies for reducing the gender pay gap, with the aim of attracting equal numbers of male and female applicants for all roles across the council and developing gender-neutral career pathways.”
In the police, all forces reported a pay gap in favour of men, with 19 – nearly half – declaring gaps above 20%. Leicestershire, Lancashire and Durham police forces top the list, with reported gaps of 31% or above. In contrast, Cleveland and City of London police both declared pay gaps of just 0.4%.
Housing associations were a more mixed bag. Among the 100 biggest associations, the largest gaps were at Black Country Housing Group and Housing & Care 21. Both reported gaps of over 26%, while the average median gap for the sector was 10.8%.
Charities have until 4 April to submit their figures, but of the 73 submissions at the time of going to press, 12 had gaps greater than 10%. Of the biggest charities by income, fundraising and employees, PDSA and Marie Stopes International have the biggest gaps, with 37% and 35% respectively. While for both this is a slight improvement on the previous year, Cancer Research UK’s pay gap has widened from 19.2% to 21.3%. However, these were to some extent outliers – as the average gap for third sector organisations that have published figures so far is a mere 2.6%. Disability charities are again the best performing, with nine organisations so far reporting gaps of less than 1% in either direction.
While most public bodies have pay gaps favouring men, in 124 bodies, women are paid more. The biggest gap favouring female staff is at Three Rivers district council, where women’s median pay is 50% higher than men’s. Thanet district council is in the unusual position of having posted a 5.8% gap in favour of men last year, but now it is 27.6% in favour of women. A Thanet spokeswoman says this is because it has outsourced its council tax and benefits administration and customer services, which comprises mostly female staff in relatively lower paid jobs. “Our negative pay gap (where women on average earn more than men) is a product of our workforce including a large number of relatively low-paid manual staff such as refuse collectors and street cleaners. These jobs tend to be occupied by men more than women. This draws down the average pay figures for men, and hence manifests in a negative pay gap,” she says.
“We recognise this issue and have conducted further interrogations into the data, to assess any underlying gender pay gap after excluding the ‘manual’ staff. This will help us draw up plans to tackle any underlying pockets of the workforce where women are paid less than men; it will also prompt us to consider actions aimed to increase the number of women amongst the ‘manual’ workforce.”
Nine NHS trusts and 15 charities had gaps favouring women, with Liverpool Community Healthcare reporting by far the biggest gap among its peers in favour of women at 29.9%.
The picture is not all gloomy. More than a quarter of NHS trusts, close to a third of councils and almost two-thirds of selected charities posted pay gaps of 5% or less in either direction. And 26 councils, 13 charities and five NHS trusts declared no pay gap whatsoever, among them Nottingham and Oxford city councils, Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS foundation trust in Surrey, and Hounslow and Richmond Healthcare NHS trust in west London. Although there are some big gender pay gaps in local government, overall the trend is improving, with a majority of councils reducing their pay gaps, taking the overall average median gap to 4.8%, down from 5.4% last year.
Ultimately, publishing the figures will not make workplaces more equal on their own. “Forcing councils and NHS trusts to reveal their gaps is not going to be enough on its own to bring about real change,” says Josie Irwin, national women’s officer at Unison. “Tougher action is needed. Making public employers have action plans for how they intend to banish gender pay inequality could prove the breakthrough. There would then be fewer places to hide and employers would have to try much harder to improve their ranking in the pay league tables.” Hammarling agrees. “Focusing on developing staff and enabling them to move sideways into roles that have better promotion prospects is important,” she says. “Perhaps most important is utilising internal talent to fill more senior roles before looking externally.”
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