A Government minister has slammed Netflix for the gender pay gap on its hit show The Crown as she warned media, tech and finance firms they should do more to promote and attract female staff.
In an interview with HuffPost UK, Digital and Culture Minister Margot James said she was “absolutely appalled” that Claire Foy was paid less than co-star Matt Smith in the award-winning series.
As the legal deadline passed on Wednesday night for private firms to publish their gender pay gap data, it emerged that 78% of the 10,000 companies involved were rewarding men more.
Just 14% pay women more and 8% had no gap at all, based on a median measure.
Millwall football club, which had a gap of 80%, topped the list. Ryanair was the 7th worst in the UK, paying women 71% less than men across the company. Local newspaper firm NWN Media was originally listed as having the biggest gap, but in fact it reported a 85.2% gap in favour of women over men.
In her interview with HuffPost, James also:
* warned that young women could shun companies that came bottom of equality league tables
* urged shareholders to “wake up” and take action against bosses of firms who paid men more than women
* slammed the macho City bonus culture that rewarded those who “fly by the seat of their pants” rather than female skills such as team-building
* singled out the hi-tech sector as one of the worst performers for recruiting women, particularly in senior roles
* suggested parents should have a right to flexible working, not just a right to request it
The UK is one of the first countries in the world to force public and private sector organisations with more than 250 employees to publish detailed statistics on men and women’s pay rates and bonuses.
The issue was starkly underlined when producers of The Crown let slip that Foy was paid less than Smith, even though the series focuses on her role as Queen Elizabeth.
Foy played the Queen in the award-winning series, while Smith played a young Duke of Edinburgh, and viewers reacted with outrage when it emerged last month that the former Doctor Who star had earned more.
“I was absolutely appalled by that. I love that series and Claire Foy has become my favourite actress. Matt Smith is great too, but he hasn’t got as big a part. It’s an outrage,” the minister said.
“What was depressing was seeing Netflix, a new company, picking up the worst of Hollywood’s bad habits. Shame on them, they are making a fortune from that show.”
It was claimed that Smith’s international fame as Doctor Who had justified his higher salary, but production company Left Bank apologised for the discrepancy and vowed to end it in future series. “Going forward, no one gets paid more than the Queen,” said one producer.
Foy spoke last week for the first time about the controversy, pointing out that “in the sense that it was a female-led drama…I’m not surprised that people saw [the story] and went, ‘Oh, that’s a bit odd.’”
James, a former small business minister who is now Minister of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said that she was pleased that firms were finally being forced to be transparent about their gender pay gaps.
She said that the #MeToo movement, that spread through Hollywood and beyond following revelations about Harvey Weinstein, had helped to shine a spotlight on equality more generally.
“The cultural progress that was dramatically inspired by the #MeToo movement has helped put some fire under the new pay transparency issue as well, though they have different origins.
“Change is happening, you can feel it in the air.”
HuffPost UK published on Wednesday statistics showing the 10 worst and 10 best pay gaps for firms among the country’s 100 leading graduate recruiters. Facebook, Apple and Unilever were among the best, but HSBC and Goldman Sachs were among the worst.
James said that such league tables would be increasingly used by women coming straight out of university to decide where they wanted to work.
“Because of the transparency it will inevitably lead to these league tables and companies that come close to the bottom of these league tables, I hope will want to take action,” she said.
“Because if they don’t and they continue to be bottom of the league table, then in time I’m sure that younger women are going to look at those league tables and think that these companies are not welcoming, not good environments for their talents.
“In the long run that will be to the detriment of those companies. They are going to put good talent off.”
James said that it was up to shareholders and fund managers to seize on the figures and put pressure on their boards to tackle the problem.
“Companies that are stuck in the past, I would go over the heads of their board to their shareholders and say ‘wake up’.
“Are your boards really realising the best return by sticking to outmoded HR policies? Often if a company isn’t looking after diversity, then it possibly says something about the rest of their HR practices.
“It could be an indicator for poorer performance elsewhere in the organisation, so I would also be sending a message to fund managers of the big companies and challenging them to challenge boards they hold major investments in.
“It’s important that companies better reflect the communities they serve, but it’s also in their commercial interest. In the vast majority of sectors that means if you have a more diverse workforce you are more likely to get better decision making and better performance.
“Also, if you look after people who have to take career breaks for whatever caring reasons, if you support those people and encourage them to return, you will get a better performance out of them.”
UK’S NINE BIGGEST GENDER PAY GAP FIRMS
1. Millwall Holdings PLC – 80 per cent The parent company of Millwall FC, reported that 3 per cent of women get bonuses compared to 29 per cent of men, while women’s median bonus pay was 99 per cent lower than that of their male counterparts.
2. GoToDoc – 77.0 per cent GTD healthcare runs GP practices and provides urgent care and out-of-hours dental services in north-west England.
3. Boux Avenue – 75.7 per cent Boux Avenue is a women’s underwear store, with retail chains across the country. All of the staff in its lower three pay quartiles are female, and in the highest pay range 91 per cent of employees are women and 9 per cent are men.
4. Fusion People – 73.3 per cent Fusion People is a recruitment firm working across different sectors including construction, property, engineering and finance.
5. Aaron Services – 73.0 per cent Aaron Services is a heating contractor operating in East Anglia and the Midlands.
6. Malling Health – 73.0 per cent Malling Health is a group of two GP surgeries in Kent, run by IMH Group, a network of primary care sites across the UK.
7. Ryanair – 71.8 per cent Ryanair has a pay gap much larger than its rivals – when comparing median hourly rates at the airline, for every £1 men earn, women earn just 28p. It says the disparity is because of the number of UK pilots it employs – 546 are male and only eight are female.
8. Connells Survey and Valuation – 71.0 per cent Connells Group’s surveying and valuation panel management company carries out a range of services including building surveys and home buyer reports.
9. Fosse Healthcare – 69.8 per cent A home care and healthcare service provider to the public and private sectors, Fosse Healthcare operates in the East Midlands.
*Newsquest NWN Media pointed out that the Government had wrongly cited its -85.2% pay gap as a +85.2% gap. In fact female staff at NWN Media earn more than male counterparts on the median measure.
James, a former businesswoman herself, said that bonuses were just as much a concern as the gender pay gap on salaries and pointed to the City culture which meant female skills were not recognised.
“I remember the pressure on bonuses. You would get people who were very much more motivated by money than others. Some of those people would be hyper-critical for the business, clients loved them, but overall their performance would not necessarily justify their bonus because they might have failings in other areas.
“You could argue they shouldn’t get a better bonus than someone who had skills more associated with women, ie very well organised, detail-oriented, very good people managers. Those skills are routinely disregarded in the City, compared to ‘get out there, sell, bring the business in, fly by the seat of your pants’. That is the issue which drives bigger bonuses for men.”
James said that young women leaving university in unprecedented numbers were now being given the data on which to make informed choices.
“I think this is a brand new generation. Equality in the workplace is moving very swiftly in the right direction. I’d say there’s almost no better time to be a female graduate.
“There’s only one fly in the ointment and that’s the age-old issue of what we used to call occupational segregation.
“The problem is exemplified very much in the technology industry, where women occupy only 17% of tech jobs. If you look at the senior management positions it drops to 5%, less than a third of the women there, so you are likely to end up with a large gender pay gap.”
James said that the statistics on young girls studying coding and computing were “appalling”, but said the Government’s new Tech Talent Charter, which has 180 companies signed up, was trying to address the underlying issues. A progress report is due later this year
“They have as a condition of membership to identify and research how they are recruiting people, what policies they have to retain talent. It’s more than just the gender pay gap, they’ve got to measure diversity on a wider front, in different salary bands, different areas of responsibility.”
James said that the progress on giving women help after career breaks was “too slow” and said it was one of the “structural reasons” why the gender pay gap persisted.
She praised firms such as Reuters for progress on pay and singled out insurance giant Aviva, which is offering 26 weeks parental leave on full pay for both mothers and fathers.
But the minister said that it was time firms made it more easy for fathers to take up shared parental leave rights.
“The numbers who are taking it are small. The Women and Equalities Select Committee did a really interesting inquiry into this. The interviews they held with fathers showed how awkward they sometimes felt raising parental responsibilities with their employer.
“It was like the position that women were in 20 years ago, that’s now affecting fathers in the workplace. It’s totally wrong. We’ve got to get over the fact that parents work!
“But there is also a deep-seated cultural issue where people in positions of authority in companies view the woman taking maternity leave as someone they’ve got to take back but they don’t have high expectations of.
“They think ‘oh we’ve got to have her back, but her mind’s going to be on her children’. It’s very insidious because it transmits itself to women who want to work compressed hours or part-time.
“Too many women feel they are lucky if they come back to more flexible working, which should be their right in my view. It’s certainly their right to request it.
“The aim of this legislation is to change behaviour, change culture, but first and foremost it is to get women paid what they deserve, getting justice for women.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that NWN Media had a gender pay gap of +85%. NWN Media pointed out that the Government had wrongly cited its -85.2% pay gap as a +85.2% gap. In fact female staff at NWN Media earn more than male counterparts on the median measure.