Study reveals the factors behind the gender pay gap in finance

Calculator and accounting work


The experiences of men and women working in finance vary drastically in terms of pay, progression and prejudice, according to new research released by the Association of Accounting Technicians.

The study shows men expect bigger salary rises than women and are more likely to push for – and get – pay rises. In addition, while almost two thirds of men think men and women are treated equally when it comes to progression opportunities and remuneration, this is the experience of less than half of women.

AAT investigated the experiences of a cohort of 2,000 finance employees after its own biennial survey of its accountancy and finance membership suggested the gender pay gap may be opening up rather than closing. In its most recent survey men working full time were earning 18% more than women, an increase on previous years, with the gap widening to 23% at senior membership levels.

Amongst the research findings are differences in men and women’s experiences of discrimination. Some 60% of women in senior management positions say they have been discriminated against at work because of their gender, almost 20% more than men in the same position, and almost three times as many women in middle management (37%) say they have experienced discrimination because of their gender than men in the same position (14%). This problem spans all levels except junior management level and is most pronounced at middle and senior management levels.

The research also shows how starting a family disproportionately affects women’s career progression. Key findings included that: almost half of mothers think that having children is one of the main barriers to progression in the workplace, compared to just 30% of fathers; and almost a third of mothers say that men and women aren’t given the same career opportunities because childcaring responsibilities fall mostly to women, nearly double the proportion of fathers.

Olivia Hill, Chief HR Officer at AAT, said of the new research: “The Government-backed review into Women in Finance has acknowledged that the sector is lagging behind when it comes to gender equality. But to date there’s not been enough clarity about what’s holding change back and what needs to happen now. Our new research suggests men and women experience the working world in finance very differently, with men much less aware of issues relating to gender inequality simply because they aren’t exposed to them. Because there are more men than women at  the senior levels in the sector’s companies, where things like salaries and progression routes are decided, the same old systems are being stuck to, reinforcing historical inequalities.”

Other key findings of AAT research include:

  • Men are more likely to push for a pay rise than women, and more likely to get one. 26% of men had asked for a pay rise in the last year compared to 18% of women and 47% of men had received a pay rise in that time period compared to 40% of women
  • Men have bolder salary expectations – twice as many men as women want to earn £10,000 or more on top of their current salary (28% vs 14%), while three times as many think they should earn more than double their current salary (6% vs 2%)
  • Women’s pay desires are modest in comparison, 44% want just £1-3,000 more than they are currently earning, compared to 29% of men
  • Over a quarter of mothers say they have become stuck in a role they had outgrown because of family commitments in comparison to less than a fifth of fathers
  • The top three reasons people thought men were  being offered better progression opportunities were: the persistent ‘old boys club’ mentality (cited by 42%), male-domination of the sector at senior levels (35%), and childcare responsibilities falling mostly to women (28%)
  • Equal numbers of men and women pushed for a promotion in the last year (23% of men and 22% of women), but men were more likely to have received one (59% vs 48%)
  • 61% of men believe men and women in their organisation doing the same jobs are paid equally, but less than half of their female counterparts agree (47%)
  • The top three reasons people identified for unequal pay were: the fact that men have historically always been paid more (58%); that the people deciding on salaries are more likely to be men than women (32%); and the persistent ‘old boys club’ mentality (28%).

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