Out-Law Analysis 4 min. read

Pandemic stalls progress on construction gender pay gap

The Covid-19 pandemic has somewhat skewed gender pay gap (GPG) figures reported by large construction businesses for the year 2020-21, with overtime reductions and staff placed on furlough impacting on the figures.

This year’s reports show that GPG figures cannot be viewed in isolation. The annual ‘snapshot’ is a useful tool, but firms should not be discouraged from their longer term projects to increase diversity in recruitment, retention and promotion of the workforce.

The construction gender pay gap

As a historically male-dominated sector, construction has traditionally reported one of the largest gaps in the average earnings of male and female employees. While many companies have strategies to measure and address diversity in place, there is still not equal representation, as shown by the data. It is particularly apparent that fewer women occupy senior or more highly paid roles within the sector, and it tends to be that the majority of new recruits are predominantly male.

To date, around 118 construction employers have reported their GPG data for the year 2020-21, including some of the sector’s biggest players, with mostly up to 4,999 employees. Those large businesses reported an average median pay gap between male and female employees of around 20% according to analysis by Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law – a larger average pay gap than reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the sector as a whole, 11.4% for 2020. The data collected by large infrastructure companies who have reported so far also suggested nearly a 20% difference in mean bonus payments to men and women.

Donaldson Susannah

Susannah Donaldson


While there are many roles in the construction space which cannot be done remotely it appears that many companies in the sector are actively seeking to promote and encourage agile working practices where possible

The GPG at the companies tracked by Pinsent Masons has remained mostly static since the GPG reporting regime was introduced in 2017, only changing by between 1% and 2% in the majority of cases.

This year, the EHRC has advised that it will not commence enforcement action against employers who fail to comply with their reporting obligations until 5 October 2021, so employers have in effect been given a six month grace period to report their figures for 2020-21. The annual ‘snapshot date’ of 5 April 2020 remains the same. This date fell just as much of the UK went into lockdown, with many non-essential workers unable to work from home placed on furlough. Other actions taken by employers to protect financial stability and preserve jobs throughout the course of the pandemic also had significant, unintended effects on their GPG.

This accounts for some of the anomalies we see in the reported data. For example, Taylor Wimpey reported a median hourly pay rate in favour of women, with female staff earning £1.18 for every £1 earned by men. The company explained that this was because site staff, who are predominantly male, were furloughed at the time of the snapshot, while predominantly female sales staff were not furloughed until a later date. Similarly, Redrow Homes Ltd reported the second highest gender pay gap of 49.4%, however, acknowledged that the report was skewed by Covid-19 as it excluded 81% of employees who were furloughed at the time of the snapshot.

Amalgamated Construction Ltd noted the pandemic as a cause for pay inflation within their core business, especially among operational and more senior positions – the majority of which are held by men.

Other companies predicted a “bounce back” in their gender pay gap next year for other reasons.  For example, in some businesses, allowances paid to employees working on project sites were temporarily stopped during the snapshot period, reducing their earnings and bringing them closer to their base pay levels. Due to the gender profile of employees undertaking these roles, this affected more male employees than females and is likely to have contributed to an artificial reduction in their gender pay gap during this reporting period.

Tackling the construction gender pay gap

The pandemic has shown employers that have been slow to embrace flexible and remote working practices the extent to which such arrangements can work for their business, as well as for their people. Flexible working practices and policies have been identified by the Government Equalities Office as key to attracting and retaining female staff and improving gender equality, and while there are many roles in the construction space which cannot be done remotely it appears that many companies in the sector are actively seeking to promote and encourage agile working practices where possible.

Businesses across the construction sector are now including targets for diversity and inclusion directly into their business plans in order to set targets for increasing the proportion of women across all levels of the business. Dounreay, for example, has committed to a set target of increasing women in its workforce to 40% by 2030 in order to achieve a more equal gender balance across all roles. 

Businesses are also developing networks and initiatives to increase awareness of gender equality issues and to provide mentoring, development and leadership opportunities.  Mace has, over the last 18 months, founded two new employee networks, Women at Mace and Enabled at Mace, as well as achieving its first ranking in the Top 150 of the UK’s Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. The company will be announcing a new business strategy, with a focus on working with all colleagues to reach their true potential and proactively ensure that they do not face workplace prejudice. Other companies have invested in mandatory e-learning training, to ensure employees are equipped with the knowledge and awareness required to improve diversity and inclusion across all levels.

Highways England has been recognised for its returner’s programme, which specifically focuses on encouraging women back into the workplace following a career break. The organisation has successfully retained 92% of those who participated in the programme.

Companies have also been engaging with young people through STEM campaigns and engagement outreach programmes within local schools, with a view to attracting new talent and increasing the proportion of women recruited for graduate and apprentice roles. Some companies are reporting that they are now managing to recruit more female than male apprentices.

So whilst the data submitted so far for the 2020-21 GPG reporting cycle may paint a somewhat distorted picture, it is clear that the reporting requirement itself has continued to shine a spotlight on gender equality and kept up the pressure on infrastructure businesses to address this issue as a strategic priority.

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