1 in 4 senior managers don’t see the gender pay gap as a business issue

The UK gender pay gap currently sits at 13.9 per cent for full-time employees, but according to new research, 29 per cent of business leaders don't see this as a real business issue, blaming the differences in pay on women taking career breaks and choosing to work part-time.

New research reveals that over a quarter of business leaders don’t believe the gender pay gap is a real business issue, blaming the pay disparity on career breaks and part-time work.

This comes from an NGA Human Resources (NGA HR) survey of 250 senior decision makers within UK businesses to whom gender pay gap reporting will apply when new regulations come into play in April.

The UK gender pay gap currently sits at 13.9 per cent for full-time employees, according to the Fawcett Society, and according to data from the UK Department for Education of how the class of 2008 is faring today, women may be making strides in the early phase of their careers, but reportedly earn £3,000 less than men based on median salary.


Still, the 29 per cent of senior decision makers in the NGA HR who don’t recognise the pay gap stated that they believed that the gender pay gap was partly due to  women’s personal career decisions.

The fact that women are more likely to take career breaks or work part-time are identified as the main factors for pay disparities. Other reasons for the gender pay gap, according to these managers, include the lack of representation of women in the overall workforce and that there are fewer women in senior management positions.

Despite Government initiatives, only 17 per cent of decision makers surveyed believe that regulations on gender splits will reduce the divide.

Although firms with over 250 employees are required to put the framework in to share gender-based salary data from next month, the research reveals one in five organisations will not be ready to disclose their data on time, let alone review remuneration packages as a result.

Those decision makers that do recognise the gender pay gap as a business issue believe the external effects on an organisation create the biggest problems – these include bad publicity, brand damage, and recruitment obstacles. Challenges such as retaining staff and pay rise demands are viewed as secondary issues for businesses.

To combat the gender pay gap, pay levelling is unsurprisingly seen as the number one solution. However, in line with the reasons highlighted for the gap, there is also significant support for back-to-work schemes and positive recruitment programmes, such as the government’s budget funding for ‘returnships’.


For NGA HR’s Geoff Pearce, it is cause for concern that a significant proportion of business leaders still do not take the gender pay gap seriously. “Whilst compulsory reporting is imminent, progress towards closing the gap will only be made if firms are prepared to put in place meaningful programmes. The government’s recent funding for ‘returnships’ is a step in the right direction, yet it is up to individual businesses to develop them if the pay gap is to be reduced for good,” he added.

“By addressing their pay gap, organisations will not just have good figures to report on paper, but the commercial benefits of a diverse and fairly remunerated workforce, improving performance, productivity and profitability.”

Understandably, men in senior positions are much less likely to see the gender pay gap as an issue than women. 35 per cent of the men surveyed didn’t see a gender pay disparity as a systemic problem, versus 22 per cent of women surveyed.  Men are also twice as likely than women to think a gender pay gap plan isn’t necessary – 14 per cent compared with 7 per cent of women.

But the issues affecting women in the workplace are systemic, and runs deeper than the survey suggests. According to Petra Wilton, director of strategy at the Chartered Management Institute, from the gender pay gap to executive board diversity, we still have a long way to go if the UK is ever to achieve gender parity in the workplace. CMI’s research found that 81 per cent of managers have witnessed some form of gender discrimination in the workplace, despite being at senior levels.


“Achieving a better gender balance is essential to boosting the UK’s productivity, which lags far behind our G7 competitors. The government’s gender pay gap reporting regulations will certainly help improve the situation, shining a spotlight on this issue and encouraging employers to set targets for change. However, as it stands businesses are failing to achieve a balance of men and women in senior management roles, or to attract and retain women to some of the better remunerated occupations. It is now up to management teams to lead by example,” Wilton said.

CMI is working with employers to promote practices that will benefit women and men alike, according to Wilton, and this includes wide-berth issues like promoting flexible working and sponsoring and mentoring women. “But there are the everyday things,” she added, “like giving everyone an equal chance to be heard in meetings, and to cut out the ‘locker room’ banter that is holding us all back.”

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.