The gender pay gap: Same role, big difference

Graham Oates offers insight into the gender pay gap debate, as he discusses research into the disparities between the salary expectations of men and women.

Reading time: 3m 15s.

This April, companies with 250 employees or more were required to make data relating to their gender pay gap public for the first time. The results revealed worrying statistics. Almost eight in 10 companies and public sector bodies pay men more than women. 

Six months on, the issue of the gender pay gap remains one of business’s hottest topics, with new statistics and case studies hitting the headlines every week. In the last month alone, new data from the Office for National Statistics has revealed that the pay gap starts from the very beginning of women’s careers, with workers as young as 16-29 earning different amounts depending on their gender.

As CBI Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn said, knowing the average pay difference between men and women will help companies develop more inclusive workplaces and support the rise of more women into senior roles.

However, research suggests that helping women reach the top of the career ladder is not the only challenge in closing the gender pay gap, and that disparities amongst salary exist even in the very top roles.


Recent research among over 6,000 senior and board-level candidates to examine the salary expectations of both men and women gave clear results. Comparing senior-level men and women in like-for-like roles, found that overall the women expected to be paid less than men in almost every role researched. 

For instance, the average salary expected by male non-exec directors (NEDs) was £106,935 whereas women going for the same NED roles expected £83,125. That’s a 25% difference. When it came to customer service heads the difference was still 22%.

For FDs it was 14.5%, and for chief operations officers and sales/business development director roles the differences were 13% and 12% respectively. Things were less marked for MDs/CEOs 2.5%, senior change managers 7.5%, facilities managers 3% and marketing directors 3%, but there was a gap all the same, and every time it was in favour of men.  

There were a few roles where there was almost parity, namely HR, supply chain management and IT programme management. In the case of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) roles, the difference was actually tipped in favour of women, but these were the rare exceptions to the rule.

Analysis of the salary expectations of senior interim managers also revealed a gap between what male and female candidates expected to be paid. It is important to be clear that companies are not coming with the expectation of paying women less than men for senior roles.

The differences recorded are the salary expectations set by the candidates themselves. However, it’s fair to assume that these candidates are basing their salary expectations on their most recent roles.

If that’s the case, then the results suggest that women are finding themselves on a career trajectory which culminates in them being on a salary which is out of kilter with their male counterparts by the time they reach a senior level.


So what advice do some of the most successful women in UK business have for tackling the gender pay gap?

Dr Sue Black, the technology evangelist and digital skills expert who in 2016 was awarded an OBE for services to technology, thinks that young women need to aim high from day one to avoid finding themselves in this position later in their careers.

She suggests that when women are asked their salary expectations in an interview situation, they should ensure they know what a typical salary would be for the job in question, then ask for 10% more. She says: “This is particularly important when you’re starting your career – the difference of a few thousand pounds when you’re 21 can turn into a £20k, £30k or £40k difference later in your career.”

Many successful women also recommend using mentors, ideally someone who has already made it. They argue that being able to draw on their experience can only help with confidence, early career decision-making and pay negotiations.  

To find out more about NJR’s analysis of salary data, you can download the full report, Women, Pay & Progress – closing the gender pay gap.


About the author

Graham Oates is CEO of Norrie Johnston Recruitment.


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