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Closing the gap – Tackling the gender pay gap issue

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Jay Neale, co-founder of The Agency Works, who commissioned research into the gender pay gap in the creative sector reports on his findings and what needs to be done to tackle the issue.

In an ideal world, men and women would all be paid the same for equal work. And yet, official statistics paint a different picture. Across the UK, the gap between men and women’s pay stands at 18.1%[i]. In the creative sector, the gap has widened to a chasm.

In the marketing industry, the pay gap increased from 20.8% in 2016 to 22.4% in 2017[ii]. And in the PR sector, the mean salary for a male PR professional is £56,840 dropping to £44,450 for females – giving male PR practitioners an average PR salary 28% higher than women[iii].

The reasons for pay disparity are complex, varied and overlapping. According to our findings, over a third (37%) of senior marketers believe women taking time out of their careers to start a family and look after children is the main reason for the gender pay gap.

A further 30% state that it’s because women need more flexible working hours – again, likely due to the fact that it’s traditionally women who have that nurturing role.

It’s clear the gender pay gap is a fact of working life for many. It’s unfair there are highly talented professional women earning significantly less than their equally talented male colleagues.

Closing the gap

It’s all very well paying lip service to gender pay equality but quite another thing implementing fairer financial remuneration. Agency heads agree it’s now time to get tougher – that means stricter regulation.

More than a quarter (27%) agrees that government legislation on equal pay for the same work and experience levels is the best way to close the gap.

A fifth (20%) is in favour of laws requiring businesses to publish ‘league tables’ to show the worst gender pay gap offenders. This chimes with a PRCA survey which found the majority of agency chiefs are in favour of the publication of gender pay information.

The Government pushed through legislation earlier this year requiring larger companies with over 250 employees to reveal the difference between male and female pay in their workforce.

While this is a positive move, a major flaw is that it doesn’t require big businesses to do anything about discrepancies. And those working in smaller, regional marketing and PR agencies will be none the wiser.

That’s why there is a call for a lowering the threshold for gender pay reporting. The PRCA found that 52% of PR professionals believe all agencies should publish differences in gender pay, no matter how many people they employ, while a further 21% said agencies which employ more than 50 people should release their salary information.

Another driver for change has to come from businesses themselves and over four in 10 (43%) respondents in our survey think that company policies around pay and remuneration need to be reviewed and new rules and regulations implemented.

It stands to reason the creative sector, with its higher ratio of female employees, should be leading the way in pay equality. After all, how do we successfully connect with target customers if we fail to have a diverse workforce that reflects today’s society?

Some of our respondents think it’s time women stand up more for their rights with 23% claiming that women need to be more proactive and demand equal pay. Some 13% would like to see more women filing official complaints or lawsuits against gender pay inequality.

Of course, that’s all very well but in the real world it’s not as easy as that. Women who’ve worked hard to negotiate flexible working hours that accommodate the school day or enable them to look after ageing parents may be afraid to ‘rock the boat’ by making what may be perceived as yet more demands.

It’s clear there’s no straightforward panacea to the gender pay gap which still exists more than 40 years after the Equal Pay Act.

Perhaps a combination of all of the above is required to set things straight. It means women standing up for their rights and the government intervening to make companies more transparent on pay. It also means celebrating the good businesses and naming and shaming those that continue to perpetuate inequality.


The Agency Works helps over 500 PR marketing communications agency owners, MDs and senior teams with the financial and operational aspects of running their businesses offering both strategic counsel and workable solutions, depending on their needs. The insight that they have gained over the past 10 years means that they’re ideally placed to understand the challenges agencies face when looking to launch, build and grow a sustainable, profitable business.


[i] Equal Pay Portal

[ii] Marketing Week Salary Survey 2017

[iii] Chartered Institute of Public Relations ‘State of the Profession’ survey 2015