The gap between what women and men are paid widened in favour of men at over 170 organisations in Scotland last year, including prominent companies such as Ineos, Babcock, Farmfoods and Brewdog.

An investigation by The Ferret has uncovered a worsening gender pay gap at more than a third of groups reporting figures to the UK government, dominated by energy, manufacturing and distribution firms.

Campaigners are demanding “culture change” to combat “sexist attitudes”. They say that women too often have to cope with “hostile environments, biased and discriminatory employment practice, and pay inequality”.

But companies stressed that they were committed to improving the gender pay gap, and that women were paid equally for equivalent jobs.

Since 2017 all public, private and voluntary sector organisations with 250 or more employees have been required to submit pay figures annually to the UK government gender pay gap service.

Of the Scottish organisations that submitted data, 173 of 494 – 35 per cent – had pay gaps favouring men which had increased between 2017-18 and 2018-19. Just 46 – nine per cent – reported an increased pay gap in favour of women.

In 2018 The Ferret revealed that building and utilities companies were amongst those to report a gender pay gap above the Scottish average.

Scottish banks, builders and utilities report huge gender pay gaps

The biggest gender pay gap increase last year was at Global Energy Group, a company providing services for the oil, gas and renewables industries with facilities in Aberdeen, Nigg and Invergordon. Its gap – calculated as the percentage difference between men and women’s median hourly pay – increased from 19 per cent in 2017-18 to 69 per cent in 2018-19.

Gender pay gaps also widened by 14 percentage points at the Rosyth Royal Dockyard in Fife run by the UK multinational Babcock, 13 points at the Petroineos oil refinery at the Grangemouth petrochemical complex run by Ineos, and 12 points at Farmfoods Distribution, headquartered in Cumbernauld.

The gap at a metering business run by Scottish power company, SSE, went from zero to 11.5 per cent between 2017-18 and 2018-19. Several local building and construction firms that employ fewer than 500 workers – seen as difficult to reach with centralised gender equality initiatives – also had widening gaps.

Scottish temping agency, Pertemps, reported that its gender pay gap increased from 1.3 per cent to 35.2 per cent. Multinational beer company, Brewdog, based at Ellon near Aberdeen went from having a 2.2 per cent pay gap that favoured women to a 10.5 per cent gap in favour of men.

2 Sisters Red Meat, which runs a beef and lamb processing plant at Portlethen near Aberdeen, saw its gender pay gap worsen by ten percentage points. The Ferret has previously reported on environmental and animal welfare issues at 2 Sisters chicken processing plants in Scotland.

Equate Scotland, a Scottish organisation advancing gender equality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – collectively known as STEM – highlighted the problems in engineering and manufacturing industries.

“The highest paid roles are still largely occupied by men, and women are more likely to be concentrated in entry level and lower paid roles,” said the group’s director, Talat Yaqoob.

“Whilst there are many good initiatives that focus on tackling the under-representation of women and girls in STEM, if we are going to tackle the retention of women, the skills shortage and the gender pay gap, we need more employers to step up and invest in real, culture change efforts and take seriously flexible working, offering quality part time work, challenging sexist attitudes and mitigating bias in their processes.”

She added: “We work with many employers across all of these areas, but we need more employers to work longer term with us to reach a tipping point of change.”

Anna Ritchie Allan, executive director of equality charity, Close The Gap, thought it was “concerning to see the lack of progress on the gender pay gap in male-dominated industries.”

“STEM initiatives to increase the supply of skilled women into the industry are welcome, but it’s critical that efforts also focus on tackling male-oriented workplace cultures,” she said.

“Too often women have to manage hostile environments, biased and discriminatory employment practice, and pay inequality. To shift the needle on the gender pay gap, companies have to understand why they’ve got a pay gap and then take steps that will create change. The weakness of the law is that companies aren’t required to take action.”

Too often women have to manage hostile environments, biased and discriminatory employment practice, and pay inequality. Anna Ritchie Allan, Close The Gap

The latest assessment of Scottish employer reporting due to be published by Close the Gap found that less than half had published an action plan, and only eight per cent published targets.

“Companies that embrace gender equality at work are more innovative and more profitable, better equipped to manage skills gaps, and better protected from costly risk of discrimination,” Ritchie Allan added.

Global Energy Group pointed out that its gender pay gap referred to just one business unit. It was down to “a continuing imbalance of male and female co-workers across our business,” said the group’s organisational engagement manager, Sarah Dunn.

“As an organisation that operates within industry sectors including oil and gas, engineering and construction and steel fabrication, it is statistically demonstrated that these sectors are traditionally dominated by male workers leading to over-representation in specific roles.”

She added: “This is reflected in our organisation where, overall, less than 15 per cent of our employees are women. We are confident as an organisation that male and female employees are paid equally for equivalent jobs.”

Babcock International, which operates Rosyth dockyard, told The Ferret it was “committed to working to improve the gender pay gap at Rosyth and across the group.”

SSE insisted that short-term increases in the gender gap at its metering business could be explained by women initially entering the company at junior levels. “Measuring the gap is just one part of the equation and meaningful action will take time to deliver an impact, but SSE is committed to becoming a more diverse and inclusive organisation at all levels,” said a company spokesperson.

Farmfoods declined an invitation to comment. Petroineos, Pertemps, Brewdog and 2 Sisters Red Meat did not respond to requests to comment.

Poll: Should more be done to close the gender pay gap?


What is the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap, as defined by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), is the percentage difference between men and women’s hourly earnings. The pay gap is not the same as equal pay, which refers to a man and woman being paid the same wage for equivalent work.

How is the gap calculated?

The ONS calculate the pay gap by comparing the difference between the middle-ranking woman and middle-ranking man in the same company.

There are other ways of calculating a pay gap, though. Some gender equality campaigners prefer to use the mean pay gap – a comparison of the average wages earned by women and men – as the median can reduce the effect of so-called outliers, such as highly paid senior leaders, on the final figure.

What is the average pay gap in Scotland?

According to ONS, the gender pay gap for full-time employees in 2018 was 5.7 per cent. For all employees it was 15 per cent. This compares to an average pay gap of 17.3 per cent in the UK as a whole, and 8.9 per cent for full-time employees.

Revealed: the gender gaps in Scotland’s schools

What causes the gap?

There is no one cause underpinning the pay gap, but research suggests important factors include pay discrimination, the concentration of women in low-paid roles and men in high-paid ones, and unequal caring responsibilities causing more women to be in part-time work.

Achieving gender equality in STEM in Scotland

According to figures from Scotland’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls, only 10 per cent of senior managers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions are women. Women made up just three per cent of those who started a modern apprenticeship in construction in the first quarter of 2018-19 and zero per cent of those starting an engineering and energy related apprenticeship.

Experts often refer to a “leaky pipeline”, describing the fact that girls and boys are proven to have equal interest in STEM subjects as children, but that girls’ interest declines with age regardless of ability.

The leaky pipeline and under-representation of women and girls in STEM has been attributed to a range of factors including gender stereotyping and bias, non-inclusive working environments, demanding working hours and arrangements, and a lack of support during maternity leave and upon returning.

In October 2017 the Scottish Government published a STEM education and training strategy developed in partnership with experts. The strategy emphasised the importance of industry engagement and role models within education. It committed the government to public engagement campaigns, as well as calling on science centres to offer women-only outreach events.

At City of Glasgow College women-only engineering and construction courses delivered in partnership with industry have been credited with a significant increase in enrolments, work placements and public awareness of gender imbalance in each sector.

Cover illustration by Chris Manson. This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.

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