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Gender pay gap: What are you so afraid of?

Tom Fitzpatrick

Why is it that the UK’s largest contractors put so much work into getting their gender pay gap data published but then don’t want to talk about how they are tackling the issue?

Are leaders afraid of words like quotas? Are they fearful of the ramifications of shared parental leave in male-dominated businesses? Or do they feel it’s not their place to speak out?

At our first Inspire Me workshop last month, there were just a handful of men who registered to attend an event that was hugely oversubscribed. At the time of writing, our second workshop in Manchester on 13 June is almost at capacity. We’ll have 120 people in the room and as it stands, just a handful of men will be there again.

When I tweeted this, one response pointed me to an article citing interesting research published last month by Accenture. It surveyed more than 22,000 men and women worldwide for a report, When she rises, we all rise, which found that women are 22 per cent less likely to reach manager level than their male peers.

The article also states that when gender balance is a strategic priority for a leadership team, that organisation is 60 per cent more likely to have women in executive leadership roles. It is imperative that leaders, male and female, are questioned as to their policies on this issue and held to account.

Willmott Dixon is a headline partner of our Inspire Me campaign. It has a median gender pay gap of 43.5 per cent. But it is championing change and CEO Rick Willmott has publicly said the company wants a 50:50 gender split by 2030. 

Yet most construction companies are telling us that gender pay gap stats are indicative of historic, male-dominated circumstances in the industry and that work is being done to change that. This is too vague.

Sadly, the only top-10 contractor that would talk to us about their gender pay gap this week was Interserve, one of the few major industry firms led by a woman. The rest offered platitudes by way of email, or in the case of Laing O’Rourke explained why their gender pay gap results were something of an anomaly.

The data does not show us that UK construction firms are paying men more than women to do the same jobs. It does not show us that companies are deliberately hiring men and not women for roles in which both are qualified.

What it does show is that leadership at both board and operational level is, at present, too heavily skewed towards men. This can’t be fixed easily, particularly in an industry that continues to attract a far greater number of men than women at entry level.

But please, no more platitudes; tell us what you’re actively doing to help foster change and when you will achieve it.

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