Susannah DonaldsonConsiders the impact of the pandemic upon gender pay gaps figures reported by large construction companies.

Large construction companies have reported that the Covid-19 pandemic has slightly distorted the gender pay gap (GPG), with reduced allowances and furlough affecting the numbers reported so far.

Construction traditionally has had one of the highest gaps in average earnings between male and female employees. The data shows that there are still many steps to be taken. It is especially evident that fewer women hold senior or higher-paid roles in the sector. This may be due to the fact that most of the new recruits tend to be male.

Up to date, 118 construction companies have reported their GPG data. This includes some of the largest players in the sector. Pinsent Masons’ analysis revealed that the median pay gap between male employees and female workers was around 20%. This is higher than the average pay gap reported by the Office for National Statistics for all sectors (11.4%) for 2020.

Data also showed a nearly 20 percent difference in the mean bonus payments for men and women. Pinsent Masons’ GPG has remained relatively stable since 2017, when the reporting system was implemented. It only changed by 1% to 2% in most cases. Many companies have used the EHRC’s six month grace period for enforcement actions and not yet reported their data.

As much as the UK was in lockdown, the annual 5 April “snapshot” date fell. Many non-essential workers were placed on furlough. Other actions taken to preserve financial stability and protect jobs had unintended, significant effects on GPG data.

Some of the anomalies in reported data can be attributed to this. Taylor Wimpey, for example, reported that the median hourly rate of pay was in favor of women. Female staff earned PS1.18 per PS1 earned by male employees. According to the company, this was due to the fact that a majority of male staff at site were furloughed during the snapshot. However, a majority of female sales staff weren’t furloughed until later.

Others companies foresaw a “bounceback” in GPG figures due to other reasons. Some businesses temporarily ended allowances for employees who worked on project sites, which reduced their earnings and brought them closer to their base salaries. This was more common for male employees than it was for female employees and likely contributed to an artificial decrease in the gender pay gap.

Flexible policies and working methods are crucial to attract and retain female employees and improve gender equality. While there are many jobs that cannot be performed remotely, many construction companies are keen to encourage and promote agile working.

Companies are also engaging young people through STEM outreach programs and campaigns, in order to attract new talent and increase the number of women hired for graduate and apprenticeship roles.

Even though the GPG 2020-21 data may not be as accurate as it appears, it is clear that reporting requirements continue to focus attention on gender equality and keep infrastructure companies under pressure to address this issue.