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ICE Community blog

Advice for engineers to close the gender pay gap

Date
06 March 2020

Last month the Royal Academy of Engineering released the report: Closing the engineering gender pay gap. The report included first-of-its-kind research on the engineering profession. Here we analyse the report's findings with the help of Penny Gilg, ICE Member and a Member of the Fairness, Inclusion & Respect Committee.

Advice for engineers to close the gender pay gap
"We need more transparent pay grades."

The recent Royal Academy of Engineering report revealed some surprising findings and focused on the profession of engineering, not engineering companies.

This means that the results are not skewed by non-engineering staff working at a company and gives us a fascinating insight into the gap in our profession. The gaps in construction and consultancy were found to be 20% and 15% respectively.

The report's first finding was that “the topic confuses people.” So as a reminder – men and women who do the same job are paid the same, this is ‘equal pay’ and has been a legal requirement since 1970.

There is a gender pay gap when the mean pay of all the women at the company is less than that of the men because of the type of jobs they do. So, because 91% of engineers in the top career grade are men, and more women work in lower paid jobs, the report found a gender pay gap of 11%. To close the gender pay gap women need to be distributed throughout the company in the same manner as men.

Theoretical gender pay rate gaps
Theoretical gender pay rate gaps

Currently there are more women working in junior roles and as more and more female graduates and early careers start, this trend won’t change quickly, so it is likely there will be a gender pay gap for many years. This can lead to us thinking it’s hard to take steps towards closing the gap – however this report offers recommendations for line managers, CEO’s, and HR teams. It also offers questions for board members and engineers to ask.

Transparent pay grades

A theme of all these recommendations is transparent pay grades. This is because in the sample, where organisations used salary ranges as well as pay grades, their engineering gender pay gap was 75% smaller than those that used pay grades without salary ranges. The benefit of pay grades is that employees can know what they should be paid without an awkward conversation with colleagues or managers - despite unequal pay being illegal, it was found that half of the female engineers did not know if there was a gap between their own pay and that of their male colleagues.

The report gives various examples of women experiencing a ‘loyalty penalty’ for staying at the same company or being less confident to ask for pay rises in line with their male colleagues. We’d like to add that there will also be men who are being disadvantaged by the lack of transparency who may have the confidence to ask for a pay rise if they knew they were being paid less than equivalent colleagues. So, introduction of transparent pay grades will benefit everyone. Do you know the pay grades for your role?

Higher paid vs lower paid roles
Higher paid vs lower paid roles

The pay gap for youngest engineers

Whichever way you look at it – by age or grade, there is a pay gap of 5% to 10% (for 18 – 21 year olds and graduate engineers respectively). For engineers this early in their career there is seemingly no reason for this gap – qualifications are the same and the time passed hasn’t been great enough for large discrepancies in experience to appear.

Analysis like this isn’t required by companies when they submit their gaps every year – but we fully support the RAEng’s recommendation to analyse data to understand your organisation’s gender pay gap and would welcome more companies publishing details of their gap per grade, especially early careers.

We also concur with the recommendation to introduce a transparent pay and progression policy and publish salary ranges. An easy win would be to publish salary ranges for graduate and apprenticeship programmes, including the range for different engineering roles, given that the type of engineering is the second largest factor in the gap between engineers.

Support for returning parents

The biggest factor which influences the gap is career level – this accounts for 40% of the gap. Women are less likely to achieve promotions and move up career levels due to career breaks to have children then returning to work on a flexible work pattern. For this reason the report offers recommendations on the return to work of mothers after maternity and career breaks.

Female engineers felt that “the most significant cause of the gender pay gap for engineers [was] the impact of career breaks and maternity leave.” The number of women whom leave engineering after having a child is unknown but the research suggests that there is a significant number because “57% of female engineers drop off the register of professional engineers under the age of 45, compared to just 17% of male engineers”.

Better support for returning mothers is recommended - at the ICE we would like to extend this recommendation to better support for returning parents. Having a child is a life changing experience and whether a parent has a year or 2 weeks off, returning to work can be difficult – we’d like to see an increase in return to work coaching and mentoring for new parents.

One part the report doesn’t explore is the role of parenting – it is acknowledged it is mainly carried out by women and hence we need to support returning mothers for example with better flexible working opportunities. Research has shown that how child care is shared in the first year defines how the care is shared for the child’s life, which means that it will continue to be mothers who experience the parenthood penalty until more fathers can take career breaks at the birth of their children too.

Unfortunately current shared parental leave pay means that this is often not a realistic choice for men – so another recommendation the ICE would like to add is to increase shared parental leave pay rates so that fathers can take career breaks at the birth of their children. More engineering dads taking career breaks will also help line managers understand the needs of returning mothers thus improving their experiences, and helping to close the gap.

The research by the RAEng is welcomed by the ICE; by looking at only engineers we have been given a new insight into the gender pay gap in our industry. Whilst it's pleasing to see that the gap for engineers is less than the national average, it is worrying to see a gap in graduate engineers. More analysis by companies into the gap per grade is encouraged to understand the underlying causes. We fully support the introduction of more transparent pay grades, along with support for new parents - mothers and fathers alike.

If you'd like to know how you can do more, the report offers advice for engineers, HR specialists, line managers, CEOs and board members.

  • Penny Gilg, Member of Fairness, Inclusion & Respect Committee at Member of Fairness, Inclusion & Respect Committee