Thursday, 19 August 2010

Gender pay gap: survey says 57 years before reporting is accurate

The Chartered Management Institute have released the results of a survey of the gender pay gap among managers.

It looks as if the £10,000 gap reported is the difference between the means, which doesn't make it particularly useful. While it's both unsurprising and wrong that top-level male managers in big companies make several hundred thousand more on average than their female counterparts (and there are significantly more men than women at this level), most women (and indeed almost as many men) are never going to get anywhere near that sort of job anyway. At the junior management level, there was an average £1,000 annual gap between men and women, which is still fairly substantial.

The study has been reported (or at least, the press release reprinted) quite widely, and all of the major news organisations I've found (Telegraph, Guardian, BBC, and Daily Mail) have generally failed to do any sort of useful journalism:

  • They all report the raw figures from the press release (I've rounded them off above because the extra precision is meaningless)
  • They all report the '57 year' figure as if a constant rate averaging means anything at all. It makes sense to note it because the fact that the year-on-year improvement is tiny compared with the size of the gap is important - but it should be made clearer that it's an illustration of the slow rate of progress, not a prediction.
  • A lot of the headlines and sub-headings talk about this being the pay gap as a whole. The article text makes clear it's only talking about managers ... and none of them mention that the pay gap in general, when they go on to look at the UK's generally large pay gap, is not just composed of pay differentials between equivalent jobs ("horizontal") but also due to women not being employed in the higher paid jobs as much ("vertical"), and doesn't just include managers. There are a lot of class issues and intersections with other discriminations being ignored here.
  • Other than the Daily Mail1, none of them note that part-time salaries were converted to a full-time equivalent. The Daily Mail forgets to note that since women are far more likely to work part-time than men, then the conversion may well hide further problems.
  • It's not clear what proportion of the gap is "women being paid less than men for the same job" (which the reporting is assuming and focusing on) and which is "women not being in the high paid jobs" (which seems more likely to be causing most of the gap). The distinction is very important - the Telegraph mentions that the Equality Act will outlaw "pay secrecy" clauses in contracts from October, which will certainly help with the first cause but not with the second - and not actually mentioned. The Guardian mentions Sweden's better record on pay gaps, but it's worth noting that Sweden enforces gender quotas on senior management boards of large companies, so the "vertical" gap is at least slightly reduced there.
  • Some of the articles have reprinted the press release's figures of the number of employees (around 43,000) and organisations (around 200) that were surveyed, but none of them mention whether there was any attempt to get a representative sample within the organisations (i.e. do the proportions of male and female managers surveyed at each level represent the proportions within those organisations).

As is typical, the survey raises far more questions than it answers, and the journalists don't ask any of them.

1 And what have we come to when the - narrowly - best reporting of an equality issue is carried out by the Mail?