Shining a light on salary, seniority and gender

In the same week that the appointment of new GSK CEO-elect Emma Walmsley was announced to great fanfare, making her one of a handful of women at the helm of FTSE 100 companies, comes news from research by the London School of Economics that a mere 18% of the UK’s top earners are female. The report categorises the top 1% of earners as being people earning over £119,000 per annum by the way, just in case you were imagining this meant multi-millionaires. When it comes to the top 0.1% of earners (£456,000 per year or more), just 9% are women – so it looks like Ms Walmsley is going to be part of a very exclusive club indeed.

The glass ceiling isn’t splintering exactly but it is getting thinner I think, with greater numbers of women being paid at higher levels, although it’s still a tightly closed book right at the very top. And you’re right, salary isn’t everything but it’s a reasonable surrogate for seniority in my opinion, especially when taking gender differences into account.  The less people are earning, the higher the percentage of women – amongst people earning more than £40,400 per year (the top 10%), 28% are women.  These results are echoed across a number of countries that the LSE researchers looked at, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Norway and Spain, and they commented in The Guardian that whilst the share of women in the top 10% and top 1% in the UK has risen since the 1990s, the share of women in the top 0.1% was little changed.

Just two weeks ago another report, this time by the University of Wisconsin in the US and the University of Warwick and Cass Business School in the UK debunked the commonly held belief that women’s pay lags behind that of men at least in part because women aren’t as likely to ask for a payrise.  On that basis, it would appear that it isn’t so much that women don’t ask, as that they don’t get – the research found women ask for payrises just as often as men, but men are 25% more likely to get a raise when they ask.

Discussions around salary are often one of the things people find most difficult when they are changing jobs or even when being promoted internally. As I’ve written before, knowing how much you’re worth can be difficult, and it’s important to ensure that you go into any of these situations well informed. The PRCA announced this month that it’s going to include gender pay gap reporting in its accreditation for consultancies, in a first that will challenge agencies to actively address this issue.  In January of this year, Tom Cox, the president of the IPA (representing the UK advertising, media and communications agency business) set a goal that women will hold 40% of senior positions within all agencies and at each stage of the career ladder by 2020. No doubt their annual census will also highlight where its members stand in relation to parity of salary across genders.

Emma Walmsley’s salary will be a matter of public record (just FYI Sir Andrew Witty’s current package is £6.7million) but for those of us who don’t have access to that kind of information about the level of remuneration appropriate for the role we’re taking up, the work being done by the PRCA and IPA to expose gender-related differences in pay and opportunity will be invaluable.  And, despite the World Economic Forum’s rather gloomy 2014 prediction that we’ll have to wait until 2095 for gender parity in the workplace, we are making progress.

The takeaway? If we keep on asking, if we keep on reminding ourselves and others of the true value we bring to the business, we can bring about change in our workplaces faster and more effectively than ever before. Knowledge is power and the more light companies and organisations shine on the gender pay and opportunity gap, the less acceptable it will be.

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