Could the skills shortage make the gender pay gap worse?

Could the skills shortage make the gender pay gap worse if the most in-demand roles, attracting the most pay rises, tend to be ones that men do?

Demonstrating the gender pay gap with men on the higher ledge than women


Skills shortages and vacancies have been getting a lot of headline attention of late – from nursing and childcare to retail and hospitality to IT.

Many of these are jobs that require general skills – round where we live, for instance, there are big shortages for people for bar work and waiting tables, with people having found alternative roles during the lockdown – but it’s worth drilling down past the sectoral level to the particular roles where there are most shortages.

According to Manpower Group, the top five in-demand roles are, in order, operations/logistics roles, in manufacturing/production, IT/data, sales/marketing and front office/customer facing.

It says the demand is particularly high for cyber security experts, app developers and warehouse and driving roles.

Demand and a shortage of applicants is pushing up wages or likely to. Yet many of these roles are ones where men predominate. Manpower adds that the “data also shows us the impact is clearly weighted against some more than others, especially black and brown women”.

Of course, there is also a lot of demand in childcare and nursing, where women tend to dominate and where wages are a big factor. In the public sector, wages are being held down, however, and nurseries are in a very difficult position. If they boost wages, someone has to pay and the likelihood is that childcare will become even more expensive.

On the one hand, a skills shortage could make this more of a candidate’s market and force employers to think more about what benefits they can offer candidates – not just pay, but also flexible working and other sought-after benefits; on the other, it could add to the gender pay gap if the jobs where pay is boosted tend to be ones where men predominate.

There is an even more urgent need now for employers to change the narrative on those jobs and encourage more women in and to ensure that the culture that surrounds those jobs welcomes women. And, of course, there is a need to ensure upskilling, reskilling and all the rest of it reach all parts of the workforce and are offered in a way that makes them accessible to all when it comes to delivery and timing.

Most of all, though, it is important to keep countering the narratives about careers that young people receive at school. My daughter has just finished her GCSEs. A large percentage of her female classmates are going on to study beauty or fashion. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but I wonder how much they have been exposed to different options along the way. On the one hand, moves towards more equality and challenging gender stereotypes have escalated in recent years – through countless initiatives and employer outreach; yet on the other, I would argue that the blue/pink agenda that many children are growing up with and the emphasis on looks over everything else – is much more all-pervasive and powerful than in previous decades.

I remember an initiative by one media company which really opened my eyes. They spoke about the fact that women tend to go into their call centre roles where they face a low starting salary and limited career progression while men tend to start as technicians [and are trained on the job], which has a significantly higher starting salary, and their career pathway offers much broader possibilities. If girls were given the facts and saw other women doing these jobs, perhaps they would make different choices. If employers truly looked at the typical pathways for men and women and questioned why some are truncated and others not, maybe we could make some genuine progress when it comes to the gender pay gap.

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