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Flexibility key in tackling fashion’s gender pay gap

Fashion retailers need to open senior roles up to flexible working if they are serious about tackling the gender pay gap, industry experts have said.

Across the UK, more than 10,000 firms that have more than 250 employees have published their gender pay gap figures, but around 1,500 are yet, to submit their figures despite the April 4 deadline having passed.

Within the fashion sector, analysis by Drapers of 170 of the largest companies found that on average women were paid 18.56% less (mean) than men per hour, and collected just over a quarter less in bonuses (26.2%) than their male counterparts.

Lingerie retailer Boux Avenue reported the largest gender pay gap so far. Its female staff are paid on average 74.5% less than their male counterparts.

Coast had a gap of 71% (mean), and women receive 29p for every pound earned by men, while womenswear retailer Phase Eight reported a 64.8% gender pay gap (mean) – women are paid 35p for every pound paid to male staff.

Managing director of TRP recruitment Shelley Pinto said the industry may never be able to fully eradicate the issue: “Our clients simply want a member of staff, they don’t state a male or a female.  However, I don’t think we are ever going to get completely away from the problem.

“Not many guys want to be a buyer’s assistant and not many women want to be involved in the technical side, which is often where the higher paid roles can be.”

Research conducted by recruitment specialist Timewise found that many women are put under pressure to drop flexible working practices as they climb the career ladder, which can lead to career stagnation.

Campaign director at Timewise Daniela Marchesi said: “The lack of quality middle management and senior roles that are available on a flexible basis is one of the key reasons why the gap widens.

“This is an opportunity for employers to do more than pay lip service to the pay gap and put real changes in place. There are a lot of women who are literally stuck on the shop floor and can’t take their flexibility with them up the career ladder,” she added.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC said its Retail 2020 report showed that flexibility is the second most important reason to work in retail. However, she added: “In some cases this is a trade-off that may hold some people, particularly women, back from fulfilling their potential or optimising their pay.”

Having children remains a career barrier to progress that disproportionately affects women. One industry professional, who wished not to be named, said she knew of female colleagues who had to accept a pay cut of up to £12,000 to return to work after taking time out to start a family.

The negative impact of having a large gender pay gap could pose an image problem for retailers in the long term, said David Israel, employment partner at law firm Royds Withy King.

“Although the fact there is a gap does not in itself prove there is unequal pay, it raises the question of why that gap exists at all. It is highlighting an issue and it is one of the few times where public opinion will cause change.”

Sofie Willmott, senior analyst, retail at Globaldata is not convinced the publication of the figures will have a major impact on customers’ shopping habits, but said retailers may begin to publish a whole series of new metrics to rate their values.

“It won’t have a huge impact on wages but it does encourage retailers to look at their staff profile. If a retailer looks bad, they may look at gender pay gap by level and make changes accordingly.”

With annual gender pay gap reporting now set by law, Pinto believes it will have a lasting effect on people’s perceptions of potential employers.

“Everyone is aware of [the gender pay gap]. The millennial generation are not brought up in the way of gender splits like a generation ago.

“They all work and do equivalent jobs. If they were to go to a company where they knew that men get more, it will have an effect on talent going to that company.”


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