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Whatever the reasons for the gender gap in CEO pay, it needs to change

It’s the eternal pink and blue divide.

I'm with Carney. Photograph: Getty Images

It’s the eternal pink and blue divide. The corporate gender pay gap in the UK and for that matter across the globe has been heavily debated and there are myriad opinions around why men get more hefty pay packages than women and, more importantly, why men hold most of the top jobs in the industry.

The divide has come into focus again with results of a new salary research by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) revealing that men actually earn £141,500 more in bonuses than women doing the same role over the course of a working life.

According to the CMI research of 43,000 managers, male executives, on an average, get double the amount of bonus in comparison to women, with extra payments standing at £6,442 in 2012 compared with £3,029. Women directors' average bonus is £36,270, while men receive £63,700, and at more senior levels, the pay gap for both basic and bonuses increase, according to CMI.

There is no doubt that there are more male executives holding top jobs with fat salaries than there are women doing the same in the UK. Only last month a proposal by the Conservative Women's Forum, a group of female MPs investigating why too few women rise to the top of Britain's companies, said stats on the number of women firms employ at each level, the number of employees promoted by gender and the average pay gap at each rank, should be made public if "Britain is ever to get to the bottom of its "women's problem" in business".

However the problems aggravating the pay gap between the sexes are, at one level, rudimentary and age old. Societal biases and just a leak in the women talent pool are the real problems here, as they have been for decades.

A recent Harvard study of workplace ambitions showed fewer women aspire to top jobs than men. According to CMI, at junior levels, women actually earn £989 more than men on average and make up 64.3 per cent of the proportion of staff. But by middle management they fall behind both in terms of salary and representation, receiving £1,760 less than men and filling less than 44.3 per cent of the roles.

Childcare and family life – both of which women have been critisised for prioritising over their work lives – are basic realities that do exist and even may push the mentality that men will be more dedicated to the professional demands of a company in comparison to women who have a home to run. Also the maternity leave periods often become gaps in women’s career roadmaps. 

Things have gotten better over the years though. A Pew Research Center study released in June revealed that 23 per cent of women earn more than their husbands, up from 4 per cent who did in 1960. According to a survey carried out by Southampton University recently, the few female chief executives at FTSE 350 companies are paid on average £1.8m, compared to £1.3m for men, and the close links between performance and pay at public companies suggested that women bosses were delivering better results. The study also found that female chief executive pay had gone up by 9.3pc per year on average over the last five years, compared to 5.1 per cent for men.

Golablly, we have the likes of Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo, Marissa Mayer, CEO, Yahoo, Ginni Rometty, President and CEO, IBM, Anne Sweeney, Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks, and President , Disney/ABC Television Group, Safra Catz, President and CFO, Oracle, Ursula Burns, Chairman and CEO, Xerox, to name some heavyweights who are turning the tide.

However the fact that when Beyonce sings "all the honeys makin’ money…throw your hands up at me" we can actually pick out names from a women-power-list of those who can wave back is the worrying bit. When it comes to men, that’s not a practical thought.

In the UK particularly, although women who run public companies may earn more than their male counterparts, they definitely represent a minority. Women only account for 5.6 per cent of executive directorships, despite the government target of 25 per cent. In fact Boardwatch UK recorded the first fall in the percentage of women on company boards, earlier in the year, since the figures were first complied in 1999.

As long as there are biases and "dirty old men" at share holder meetings telling the likes of Marissa Mayer that they are attractive instead of anything related to the job they do, or there are stereotypes that women will always prioritise family life over their jobs, women gaining positions of real power on the corporate ladder is going to be slow. The ladies need to be more proactive themselves about where their career trajectory is going, how their salaries and job descriptions compare to their male counterparts and they must speak up when it comes to getting a bonus or promotion if there is a valid case for it. They have to be the change they want to see. That maybe a cliché but there’s a reason why cliché’s are true.

On the other hand perceptions too need to change. A female or male boss is irrelevant when he or she is the best person to do the job and that’s how companies must approach their employees, alongside also actively working towards bridging a lopsided gender employment scale. Even after that, we may not end up with identical labour market outcomes for men and women. It will be of crucial importance then how the labour market rewards different types of work. 

Just recently, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney admitted to a “striking lack of top female economists” and pledged to create a pool of candidates for its rate-setting committee who will eventually become good enough to be the first female governor in the Bank’s 300-year history. He said the Bank has to “grow” top female economists all the way through the ranks. That attitude will go a long way in terms of awareness and equality. I’m with Carney.