Experts urge better female progression to address huge bonus pay gaps

Figures suggest bonuses dwarf regular pay gaps, offering ‘stark reminder’ of inequality

Employers must progress and promote female employees to senior roles, experts have said, as the latest analysis of gender pay data revealed large bonus gaps well above firms’ median gender pay gaps – with four times more men than women in Britain’s highest-paid roles. 

As the government’s gender pay deadline of 30 March approaches, with more than 6,000 of the estimated 9,000 companies yet to publish, data reported to date suggests the average national gender pay gap is 18.4 per cent. 

However, published bonus gender pay suggests that while proportionately more female employees receive bonus pay, the majority of reporting organisations’ gender bonus pay gaps far exceeded their average gender salary gap, in favour of males. 

“Proportionately, there are more women receiving bonuses than men – but if a bonus is a proportion of your salary, it makes sense that this gap exists,” Jill Miller, CIPD diversity and inclusion adviser, told People Management

“Lack of progression is likely to play into these figures, as is occupational segregation, with women over-represented at junior levels or in certain [lower paid] roles, particularly in sectors where the workforce is majority male.” 

Notable organisations that have published bonus pay gaps include McKinsey & Company, which reported that female staff receive 52.5 per cent less in bonus pay than male counterparts. The firm’s median gender pay gap for hourly pay is 14.3 per cent.

According to government-published results, the gender bonus gap at consultancy Ashurst Business Services meant that female staff got 60.4 per cent less in bonus pay than male staff.

Of the ‘big four’ professional services firms, Deloitte UK and EY have reported median bonus pay gaps of 37.8 per cent and 35.2 per cent respectively, while PwC and KPMG reported gaps of 67.1 per cent and 27.6 per cent. 

Deloitte and EY initially reported gender pay gaps of 17.8 per cent and 14.8 per cent, but following accusations from Nicky Morgan, chair of the Treasury committee, that they were “exploiting a loophole” by excluding their top earners from the data, they are reported to have republished their figures to include the salaries of partners, which widened their reported gender pay gaps to 15.2 per cent and 19.5 per cent. 

“As with our formal gender pay and bonus gap reports, these calculations again serve as a stark reminder that we don’t have enough women in senior roles – this is not about unequal pay but the shape of our firm,” Emma Codd, managing partner for talent at Deloitte UK, told People Management

“We’ve worked hard in recent years to address this imbalance: we believe that culture has a clear role to play in correcting gender imbalance, and over the past four years have placed additional focus on ensuring that we always provide an inclusive culture underpinned by respect that enables women to progress alongside commitments outside the workplace.”

Many organisations attributed their discrepancies in bonus pay to a lack of women in senior roles, highlighting ongoing issues with female progression in the workplace. 

Recent figures from HMRC revealed that men were four times more likely to hold the highest-paying roles in the UK, with 17,000 men reported to have earned £1m in 2015-16, compared to just 2,000 women. 

The gender pay gap audits to date appear to confirm this as, in the majority of organisations, men receive more in bonuses despite fewer men than women workers receiving a bonus.

International learning company Pearson stood out as it reported a median gender pay gap of 15 per cent, and a comparatively small overall median bonus gap of 18 per cent, based on discretionary annual bonus plans and sales bonus plans, “eligibility for which is determined by individuals roles within the organisation”. 

“Gender pay reporting is very important in highlighting where we need to take proactive actions in getting a better gender balance in senior roles,” Anna Vikstrӧm Persson, Pearson chief human resources officer, told People Management

“The key area to focus on is what is causing the gender pay gap and having the right approach and strategies to address it.

“Our global talent team is looking at how to make more high-level career progression opportunities available for women, and ensure that all leadership development programmes are as diverse as possible.”

While many professional services companies openly acknowledged either in interviews or in their reports that there was work to be done to level the gender bonus pay gap, the financial sector has shown particularly stark gender and bonus pay gaps.

More than 80 per cent of Barclays employees in the top quartile of the company are men, with a reported 46.9 per cent median gender bonus pay gap in favour of male employees. HSBC reported a median gender bonus pay gap of 61 per cent between male and female employees, also in favour of males. 

Recently published figures from Goldman Sachs International revealed not only a mean gender pay gap of 36.4 per cent, but that while roughly the same proportion of men and women at the bank received a bonus, female staff received a notable 67.7 per cent less than men in bonuses. 

With a week to go until the reporting deadline, Miller said organisations must embrace the transparency of gender pay reporting – even if it makes for uncomfortable reading in the initial stages. 

“The transparency that reporting provides is very important, because although we have known the gender pay gap has been an issue for a while, we have not had the evidence behind this yet,” she said. 

“When organisations put out a narrative, it’s a signal that they are serious instead of just putting out their data – the most important thing is developing the narrative and then the action plan that follows it.

“The data will highlight what the issues are: there won’t be a silver bullet that solves things for every organisation, it’s how you understand the work in your organisations. I hope next we will see businesses working to tackle their gender blockers.” 

Some companies are already turning their gaps into concrete actions.

Persson said: “Earlier this year, [Pearson] made a voluntary commitment to extend gender pay reporting globally by 2020, and in 2017 we launched a new executive management committee on diversity, charged with increasing diversity and inclusion sponsorship, measurement and investment across Pearson. 

“There is a huge opportunity here. If we can understand why women are underrepresented in senior roles, we can tap into a broader pool of talent. We are already working to understand how we can support women to realise their full potential.” 

The gender pay reporting deadline is 4 April for private sector organisations.