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‘Underpaid’ women less likely than men to ask for a pay rise

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Recent research into the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on UK employees revealed that women were less likely than men to have requested a salary increase this year despite being equally affected by rising living costs.

Of the 1,000 people polled by HR software provider Ciphr last month, just one in four (26%) women, compared to one in three (36%) men, had asked for a pay rise. Women were also shown to be less likely to have asked for a cost-of-living bonus (7% vs 14% of men), for a promotion (17% vs 22%), or for more employee benefits to top up their income (11% vs 16%).

Yet, conversely, it is female employees that are the most likely to say they can’t afford to take sick leave (55% vs 47%), the most likely to report feeling overwhelmed by the stress of money worries (80% vs 70%), and the most likely to think that they are not being paid enough (38% vs 32%).

Less than half of the women surveyed think that what they’re being paid adequately reflects the value they bring to their organisation with their skills and experience (45%) or what they do for their employer in terms of their role and responsibilities (44%).

In comparison, half of the men surveyed do feel adequately rewarded for their efforts, with 49% agreeing that their salary reflects their skills and experience, and 51% that it is reflective of their current role and responsibilities.

While these findings only highlight a marginal difference in how men and women perceive their salary, there is a significant disparity in how people act on these perceptions around their salary expectations. Of those men who are discontent with their pay – because, in their opinion, it doesn’t match their skills, job knowledge or position – nearly half (48%) have asked for a raise recently. Just a third (32%) of women who feel the same way have done the same thing, and asked for a pay rise.

Even men who can’t decide if they are being paid fairly or not are still, statistically, more likely to ask for a pay rise than women who know that they are unhappy with their wages (38% vs 32%) – a notable gender ‘ask gap’ (where women ask for, or expect, lower salaries than comparable men) which could be compounding existing pay gaps at many organisations.

It pays to ask

Not every employee who asks for a bump up in salary will get one. But, as previous Ciphr research has illustrated, it does usually pay to ask – with those who push for higher earnings found to be more likely to be awarded a pay rise than those who are reticent to negotiate a salary increase.

Since fewer women, than men, have asked for a pay rise recently, according to Ciphr’s cost of living survey, it’s reasonable to infer that more men, than women, may have received a pay rise recently. If this outcome is the case, then disproportionately more women, than men, could continue to be negatively affected by the impact of the cost-of-living crisis – as their wages fall in real terms compared to inflation. The UK’s gender pay gap could also widen further.

As it currently stands, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey continue to show a sizable pay gap between what the average man working full-time in the UK earns, compared to the average woman (it’ll be three more months until the ONS’ official annual gender pay gap statistical bulletin is released).

In the first quarter of this year (January-March 2023), the mean (gross) pay for full-time male employees was £801 a week (or £19.09 an hour). Full-time female employees were paid nearly £140 less a week, on average – at £662 (or £16.04 an hour). This works out to a 16% gender pay gap, which means that, on an hourly basis, women earn 84p for every pound earned by a man.

Although this gap is lower than in the same quarter in 2022 (down from 17.4%), Ciphr’s analysis of the ONS data shows that women’s hourly pay still lags men’s hourly pay in nearly every industry. And, women working in the private sector have to contend with a bigger pay gap than those in the public sector (18% vs 13.8%).

Pay gaps vary from 2.1% for administrative and support services workers up to 18.7% for those employed in financial, insurance and real estate activities (the highest is 20.5% for businesses categorised as ‘other services’). Construction is the only exception here, as it has a negative (mean) pay gap of -7.5%, which means that, as an industry, it pays its full-time female employees more on average per hour than its full-time male employees.

Industries ranked by their mean (average) gender pay gap in Q1 2023 (the chart also shows the growth in men’s and women’s mean hourly earnings from Q1 2022 to Q1 2023):

Standard Industrial Classification (SIC2007)Women’s mean hourly earningsWomen’s mean wage growthMen’s mean hourly earningsMen’s mean wage growthMean gender pay gap
Other services£14.8011.7%£18.6119.8%20.5%
Financial, insurance and real estate activities£21.346%£26.232.8%18.7%
Education£16.135.9%£19.837.8%18.6%
Agriculture, forestry & fishing£11.77-23.3%£14.2825.2%17.6%
Human health & social work activities£15.264.8%£18.510.6%17.6%
Information & communication£21.17-8.9%£25.62-2.3%17.4%
Wholesale, retail & repair of motor vehicles£12.187.4%£14.639.1%16.7%
All employees£16.046.6%£19.094.3%16%
Mining, energy and water supply£18.61-2.5%£21.8213.9%14.7%
Manufacturing£16.737.8%£19.1111.8%12.5%
Professional, scientific & technical activities£20.7112%£23.41-0.5%11.5%
Public admin & defence; social security£17.843.7%£19.61-1%9.1%
Transport & storage£14.7217.9%£16.140.2%8.7%
Accommodation & food services£9.774.7%£10.617.4%7.9%
Administrative & support services£15.3119.7%£15.6310.7%2.1%
Construction£18.6812.7%£17.37-4.5%-7.5%

(Gender pay gap figures have been calculated using the mean hourly pay for men and the mean hourly pay for women in Q1 2023)

Notably, between the first quarter of 2023 and the first quarter of 2022, seven industries (of the 15 listed in the chart above) increased the hourly rates of their female employees by a greater percentage than they increased the hourly rates of their male employees. Seven other industries, however, did the opposite, with men benefiting from higher pay growth than women. Either way, the gender pay gap remains far from zero (and even further away in some cases).

More needs to be done to close the gap

Claire Williams, chief people officer at Ciphr, says: “Much has already been written about how the salary ‘ask gap’ can contribute to pay inequality. It happens when people, usually women, sell themselves short by accepting a lower salary than they are perhaps ‘worth’, because they perceive the salary they are being offered as fair. Or, as highlighted by Ciphr’s latest research, they don’t ask for a pay rise at all – even if they are unhappy with their wages – maybe because they don’t feel confident, or encouraged, in asking for a higher salary.

“These employees then potentially end up being paid a lower market rate – sometimes compounded over years – than they should be, compared to others with similar skillsets, qualifications, and experience. This isn’t good for them, or, in the long-term, their employer, because people who don’t feel valued are much more likely to be looking elsewhere for a new job. And, until this cycle is stopped, it will keep perpetuating pay gaps.

“The onus is on employers to do more to fix this. As the latest ONS earnings figures show, disappointingly, the gender pay gap is still as wide as ever in many industries. Employers must be held accountable for doing what they can to reduce salary discrepancies – where they see them – within their organisations to ensure that all employees are being fairly financially rewarded for their efforts, and the value they bring to the business. Better representation of women and ethnic minorities at all levels, in all roles, is a vital part of driving this change and achieving pay equality. It’s also the best way of attracting and retaining the best employees long-term.”

The results of Ciphr’s cost of living survey, showing how men and women say they have been affected by rising living costs in 2023, are available at www.ciphr.com/cost-of-living-survey-results/#pay-rise.

Ciphr is a leading UK-based provider of integrated HR, payroll, learning and recruitment solutions. Ciphr also offers off-the-shelf and bespoke eLearning content and diversity and inclusion consultancy services through its recent acquisition, Marshall E-Learning. More than 600 organisations use the group’s people management solutions globally across the public, private and non-profit sectors.

For more information, please visit www.ciphr.com

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