Bonuses: do we still not recognise equal pay for equal work?

There's a gender gap in top company bonuses.

Women in senior management are being paid bonuses that are only half those of men in identical positions, a survey by the Chartered Management Institute has found. You’ll find very few people in the UK today who would argue that all other things being equal, men deserve higher pay than women — a little top-up in recognition of their maleness — and yet the gender pay gap just won’t close. 

The gap between men and women’s pay cheques isn’t limited to bonuses, of course — across all sectors women are paid an average of 10 per cent less than men. 44.4 per cent of male graduates earn over £24,000, compared to only 30 per cent of women.

There’s a tendency to try and explain away these unfortunate statistics in terms of women opting-out of high-paid roles or choosing to work part-time once they’ve had children (although the 10 per cent pay gap refers to full time workers). Some people have tried to explain away the bonus gap by suggesting that men are more likely than women to be senior management in fields like finance, where bonuses across the board are far higher. 

While this might account for part of the gap, it can’t explain away the whole £141,500 in extra bonus payments a man can expect over his lifetime. This still points to the failing of UK business and industry to promote equality at every level of the work place, and the CMI’s findings are symbolic of a whole workplace culture that still can’t treat women as equal to men, and that frankly isn’t interested supporting women in work. 

The fact that we’re still no nearer to the modest target of ensuring that 25 per cent of FTSE 100 board members are women shows just how uninterested big companies are in changing the status quo.

One interesting aspect of the CMI’s findings is that the gender gap in bonuses widens at more senior levels. At entry level, women earn £989 more than men, but by middle-management they receive £1,760 less than men and at director level the gap widens to £15,561. 

It's not obvious what this means — will the newest generation of female entry-level employees cling on to pay parity more successfully than their predecessors? Are women’s bonuses suffering because they are having children and are less likely to put in the extra hours expected of senior management? Are senior management levels less women-friendly because we know there are fewer women at the top? 

Unless you’re happy with the conclusion that women do not deserve equal pay to men, we need to start answering these questions and holding blasé companies to account.

This piece first appeared on Spear's Magazine

Marissa Mayer. Photograph: Getty Images

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman. She is on Twitter as @SEMcBain.

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