The gender pay gap in the construction industry

Construction is one of the worst performing sectors for gender pay equality. looks at the latest data.

female construction workers


Construction and financial services are the sectors with the highest gender pay gaps, according to the latest figures for 2018. Of the 10,444 employers with over 250 employees who filed figures by midnight on 4th April, 382 were in the construction sector. One of the major problems is the sector’s difficulty generally in attracting women – women only make up just over 12% of the construction industry.

According to analysis by XpertHR, the average gender pay gap for construction was 23.3%, the same as it was the previous year. While the median gender pay gap [the difference between the middle paid woman and the middle paid man in an organisation] fell by 0.6% to 24.2% and the average gender bonus gap was down 3.9% to 47%, the median gender bonus gap rose by 2.8% to 33.3%.

Here are some of the figures from leading firms:

Balfour Beatty’s average pay gap is 24% and the average bonus pay gap is 33%. Women make up only 9% of senior staff, although this is more than in last year’s report, and 34% of the lowest paid staff.  Thirty seven per cent of men received a bonus, compared to 27% of women. Its action plan includes a returner programme, a career development programme for women, improving its maternity policy, promoting an inclusive environment, doing outreach work with schools and universities, reviewing recruitment processes and focusing on women in senior roles – a third of the current cohort of its Future Leaders Programme is female.

Balfour Beatty states: “The fact that we are operating within a historically male-dominated sector has an impact on how many women we can recruit, into which areas of the business and at which level. For example, we would like to have female candidates to consider for all roles. However, we have found that there are some roles where we have no female candidates at all, which has made our aspiration difficult to achieve in some cases. This is, therefore, a medium to long term aspiration which we know requires action on a number of fronts, but to which we are fully committed. It will also require work across the sector and more broadly, with continuing effort at Government level and through the education system.”

At Everest, women’s mean hourly rate is 30% lower than men’s [34% last year] and their mean bonus pay is 70% lower than men’s [it was 72% last year]. The higher figure is due in part to the company having few women at the top – just 15% [up 1% on last year] – but more at the bottom – 61% [64% last year].  Unlike last year, it has chosen not to issue a report with its figures. Last year it said it would address the gap by attracting females into under-represented roles; shortlisting candidates to achieve gender balance and diversity where possible; and investing more in supporting and progressing female talent into more senior roles, although there was not much detail.

At Higgins Construction women’s mean hourly rate is 46.6% lower than men’s [the gap has risen from 40% last year]. This is in part due to a fall in the number of highest paid staff being women – down from 9.7% last year to 4.4% this year. There are, however, more women than last year in the lowest paid band. They make up 30.3% of staff in this category compared to 23.3% last year. Women are more likely to receive bonuses, but are paid on average 94.3% less than men [up from 93.4% last year]. The company has not supplied an action plan and did not publish one last year either.

In contrast, progress is being made at Lendlease and the company is keen to talk about what it is doing. Women are paid on average 29.6% less than men [down from 30.4% last year]. Women make up only 5% of senior staff [down from 6% last year] and 34% of lowest paid staff [up from 33% last year]. However, the middle quartiles show progress for women. Women are less likely to be paid bonuses and are paid an average of 64.2% less in bonus pay than men. Its gender pay report is detailed and describes steps taken so far and results. These include the introduction of a 50:50 gender target for graduate recruitment which has increased the number of  female graduates from 38% in 2015 to 62% in 2018; tracking gender data at every stage of the recruitment process, measuring senior leaders against gender representation targets for every level of the organisation. Between 2016 and 2018, Lendlease says it has increased female hires from 29% to 47%.

It has also reviewed the language used in job descriptions to ensure it is inclusive of women and minorities and advertises roles on job boards specifically geared towards attracting diverse candidates. Moreover, interview panels are made up of a diverse selection of professionals; it has enhanced Shared Parental Leave; runs a personal development programme for women and implements unconscious bias training. It also actively engages employees in conversations about the gender pay gap.

At Skanska women’s mean pay gap is 21.4% lower than men’s [up 1.7% on 2017] and the mean bonus gap is 33.6% [down 7.7%]. Women occupy 12.5% of the highest paid jobs and 32.4% of the lowest paid jobs. Its gender pay report says 28% of new hires in 2018 were women. For emerging talent roles (apprentices, trainees, graduates and interns) 35% were female during 2018. The number of women in senior operational jobs has risen from 4% in 2015 4%, rising to 9.7% in 2016 and to 15% since 2017. Its plans for closing the gap include its Recruitment Gateways programme which ensure evidence-based decision making throughout the recruitment process to reduce unconscious bias. It has also created a recruitment dashboard so it can understand the gender split of candidates at application, shortlist and hired stage. It also has a returner programme, an Experience Skanksa programme to attract and recruit people from diverse groups, a women’s network and partnerships with universities.

At Morgan Sindall Group the mean gender pay gap is 32.2% [compared to 32.9% last year]. Nine per cent of senior managers are women [up from 8% last year] and 36% of the bottom quartile are women [compared to 31% in 2017]. Its biggest success has been in reducing the bonus pay gap which is down from an average of 58.1% in 2017 to 47.7%.It says: “Although the proportion of men paid a bonus has increased in 2018, the biggest decrease has been in our mean and median bonus gap, which is primarily due to the level of bonuses for women remaining roughly the same while the level paid overall to men has reduced.” Among a raft of actions outlined in the report are introducing more agile working, reviewing its approach to returners, exploring opportunities to enable employees to take career breaks, introducing development programmes for all its employees and supporting working parents in Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure.

Willmott Dixon recruited more women across all levels of the company while 51% of management trainee intake were women. The median pay gap was 36.2%, up slightly on 2017 [35.45%]. However, it says that since the snapshot of figures in April 2018 the percentage of women it recruited in 2018 increased from 31 to 35% and that the percentage of women in its workforce increased to 25.5%. Its bonus gap increased from 68.5% from 64.69% which it says is due to strong business performance and more men being in senior positions. Willmott Dixon has publicly committed to achieving gender parity at each grade within the business by 2030. Its action plan mentions several initiatives including a returner programme, partnerships with schools and universities, an agile working toolkit,  sponsorship of the Inspire Me campaign with Construction News and recruitment and leadership initiatives.

Returners and the beginnings of culture change has noted a real drive for change among some construction companies in the last couple of years, with real leaders emerging to drive change, not only in their own organisation,  but also cascading good practice down through their supply chain.

Moreover, a recent survey by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors says pay gaps in the construction industry are reversing among certain age groups. For example, female respondents to its survey working in construction in London are paid an average base salary of £43,000, whereas their male counterparts are paid less at £37,500. However, as the age of respondents increases, the disparity reverses in favour of men, says the report.   Also, men still gain more in bonus payments across the board and most younger women still face a gender pay gap.

RICS says the survey also shows that the industry is becoming more accommodating to work/life balance needs. Forty six per cent can work from home and 35% can work flexi hours. Moreover, 46% believe that their employer is dedicated to diversity, while only 21% feel that their employer is not.

Several construction firms now run returner programmes aimed at those who have taken a career break as a way of bringing in some experienced women to fill skills gaps. They include Morgan Sindall, Skanska and Balfour Beatty.

Others are looking at every aspect of their business – from parental and carer support to flexible work and recruitment and career progression processes to move towards a greater gender balance. Morgan Sindall recently won the Top Employer Award for Family Support.

All those firms who are making progress underline, however, that there is much more to do and that any move forwards is likely to be slow, given the challenges of getting more women into construction.


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