The gender pay gap in construction

Some construction companies have seen their pay gaps slightly increase this year as they try to create a pipeline of female talent by hiring more women in graduate and apprentice roles.

female construction workers

 

Construction companies reported the largest gender pay gap of any sector in the 2021-22 financial year, with a gap of 23.7% according to analysis by the CIPD. This means that women in construction received roughly 76p for every £1 earned by their male colleagues. 

After construction, the largest gender pay gaps for 2021-22 were in the finance and insurance sector (22.5%) and the education sector (21%). The smallest gaps were in accommodation and food services (0.35%), followed by health and social work (1.9%). 

The construction sector, which has long been male-dominated, had a similar gender pay gap of 23.8% in 2020-21. However, during that year, the education sector and the finance and insurance sector had slightly larger pay disparities, according to BBC analysis at the time.

Since 2017, companies in the UK with over 250 employees have been legally required to report their gender pay gap at the end of every financial year. But campaigners have criticised the fact that companies are not then required to analyse or tackle any inequalities that the data shows. 

Since 2020, the Covid pandemic has affected gender pay gap figures across all sectors, partly because furloughed staff are not included in the figures. The pandemic’s impacts varied greatly across the construction sector – during lockdowns, companies working on projects such as house-building often had to stop on-site work and furlough staff, whereas those working on “critical” projects such as utilities could continue. 

Why does construction have a large gender pay gap?

Construction has a large gender pay gap partly due to the low numbers of women in the sector – women account for just over 14% of workers and very few of them are in higher-paid senior roles. But this appears to be changing gradually, with women now making up over a third of the graduates going into the UK construction industry, according to Go Construct, an organisation that supports people who want to start a career in the sector. 

“Things are changing, but slowly,” says Dawn Moore, group people and communications director at J. Murphy & Sons, a construction and engineering company with around 4,000 employees. “I think sometimes the size of construction’s gender pay gap masks some of the good work that’s going on.” 

Moore points out that many companies are making incremental gains each year, and also that many diversity initiatives will only show results in the medium term. In particular, some companies are trying to create a pipeline of female talent by hiring more women in graduate and apprentice roles, in the hope that they will progress to higher-paid roles in the coming years.

How did individual companies fare?

Balfour Beatty, the UK’s biggest construction contractor, reported a median* gender pay gap of 21.2% and a mean* gender pay gap of 18.2%. Both of these figures were higher than the previous year, but the overall trend is that the company has been slowly reducing its gender pay gap over the last four years.

Balfour Beatty, which published a report along with its pay data, partly attributed this year’s wider gap to some on-site work resuming in 2021, after the Covid lockdowns of 2020. As this work resumed, travel and food allowances were reinstated for site workers, who are mostly men, and this pushed up male earnings. Balfour Beatty’s report also pointed out that its female workforce is growing particularly in graduate and junior roles – women account for 33% of staff in its lowest salary quartile, up from 29% on the year – which should help cut its pay gap in the coming years as those women progress.

Lendlease, a multinational company headquartered in Australia, reported a 22.4% median gender pay gap in its UK operations, slightly down from 22.8% the previous year. The mean gender pay gap was 22.2%, up from 20.6% the previous year. Like Balfour Beatty, Lendlease has achieved an overall drop in its gender pay gap over the last four years.

Within the norms of the construction sector, the company performs relatively well at having women in senior roles – just over a fifth of people in its top-paid quartile are women. Lendlease released a report alongside its pay data, outlining its initiatives for hiring more women and development schemes for female staff. Crucially, the company does a quarterly review of gender and cultural diversity in its workforce, “to monitor progress against targets”.

J Murphy & Sons, reported a median gender pay gap of 24.6%, up from 17.5% the previous year. The mean gender pay gap was 19.9%, also an increase on the previous year’s figure of 14.6%. However the company has shown gradual improvements in its gender pay gap, including bonus pay gap data, over the last four years.

The company’s gender pay gap report highlighted its efforts to boost that all-important pipeline of female talent – women made up 30% of the company’s graduate and apprentice intake in 2021-22, versus 14% the previous year. When you do some really good stuff to get women in at graduate level, you can often see your pay gap go back a little bit, because obviously they’re coming in at the lower levels. Companies shouldn’t be worried about that, because what matters is that long-term sustainable plan for change,” says Moore. 

The report also outlined existing initiatives such as a maternity returner bonus, as well as upcoming projects such as a buddy scheme for working parents.                                           

What about companies with big gender pay gaps?

The construction companies above have often taken a prominent stance on diversity issues. But several companies with much larger gender pay gaps, such as BAM Construct UK and Winvic Construction, have also published reports this year alongside their data and voiced a commitment to change. Moore says that a rising number of companies are producing these action plans, as awareness grows around diversity issues.

Unfortunately, some construction companies with big gender pay gaps did not publish any analysis or action plans alongside their figures. One example is Bowmer & Kirkland, which has a median gender pay gap of 47%, the same figure as the previous year. Another example is Watkin Jones & Son, where the median gender pay gap is 52.3%, versus 49.8% the previous year.

*NB The gender pay gap includes figures for median hourly pay and mean hourly pay. Median hourly pay takes all workers’ pay into account and reports the number in the middle of that range – the median gender pay gap is the difference between women’s and men’s median hourly wages. Mean hourly wage is the average hourly wage – the mean gender pay gap is the difference between women’s and men’s mean hourly wages. 



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