How does the planning sector fare on the gender pay gap?

Government figures suggest that the gender pay gap in planning does not compare well to other professions, but commentators are optimistic that the picture is improving.

Workplaces: pay gap data published
Workplaces: pay gap data published

In 2017, legislation was passed that required all companies and public bodies with more than 250 employees to submit gender pay gap data to the government by 4 April 2018. The gap shows the difference in average pay at an organisation between its male and female employees. To great national interest, the government has now published the figures for those bodies that submitted data. 

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), national median hourly pay last year was 9.1 per cent higher for men than for women, while the mean figure was 14.1 greater for men. However, the ONS has also broken down the 2017 figures for different professions – and planning does not seem to fare well. The pay gap for "town planning officers", which includes both council planning officers and private planning consultants, is a median of 29 per cent, up from 26 per cent last year. This is one of the highest figures for all professions. The gap for "architectural and town planning technicians", which includes planning technical support staff and enforcement officers, is 13 per cent. In contrast, the gender pay gap for architects is just 4.4 per cent, and for chartered surveyors it is eight per cent.

Planning has taken a look at the pay gap figures for consultancies with big planning teams (see table, below). The pay gap figures should be treated with caution, as many of the firms featured are multidisciplinary and their planning teams in some cases form small proportions of the company’s total staff. None of the consultancies we feature, however, has a gap below the national mean and median averages and, in many cases, their figure is far above it.

Apart from Barton Willmore, none of the predominantly planning consultancies were above the 250-person threshold for reporting figures. Turley, however, revealed to us that it had a mean pay gap of 34 per cent. Lichfields chief executive James Fennell confirmed that there is a gender pay gap at the firm, but said it does not have a precise figure at this point. 

Pegasus Group and Indigo Planning said likewise. Barton Willmore’s finance director, Simon Carter, said the firm’s professional services division, which excludes its administrative staff and comprises about 65 per cent planners, has a lower gender pay gap of 11.5 per cent compared to the company-wide figure. 

The companies we spoke to were at pains to emphasise that a gender pay gap does not mean unequal pay for men and women, which is forbidden by law. But commentators said it does show the extent to which more men than women are in higher-earning, more senior roles. 

Fennell said: "We have equal pay throughout the company, but there is a gender pay gap because we have more men than woman at senior levels." He said Lichfields has an equal balance of women and men in the firm as a whole which is "now working its way up through the business". He added: "We have many very successful women in the business and this will help to erode the
pay gap."

Carter said: "Planning is a profession that historically hasn’t attracted as many females as males. Over recent years, we now see that balance reversing. Our staff are roughly 50-50, but there aren’t that many female directors because they haven’t been in the profession that long." According to Carter, Barton Willmore now has more female than male planners at junior staff level.

Paula Carney, director and head of planning for London at consultants WYG, said: "You have more men in senior positions where the pay gap will start to skew that overall figure. That’s a key reason behind the discrepancy." Carney said she expects the gap to close in time as more women advance up the ladder. 

Barton Willmore, WYG, Lichfields and Turley all said they are taking proactive steps to reduce their gender pay gaps. This often includes a focus on moving more women into senior positions and promoting more flexible and family-friendly working arrangements 

Charlotte Morphet, co-founder of networking group Women in Planning, said the gap is also likely to reflect different working patterns between men and women. She said: "While the data is important, the crude measurement of median and mean pay doesn’t take account of flexible or part-time working by women, which affects how many hours they work. Women won’t be earning the same if they’re not working the same amount of hours. For family reasons, some women might decide not to continue with work or to work

But Morphet said there is a risk that a pronounced gender pay gap could discourage women from entering the profession. She said: "People want to work in places where they think it’s a balanced and diverse workforce. If you don’t have that, it’s bad PR for the firm and therefore bad for business. Diversity at all levels is important. Planners are meant to be the convenors of communities and should reflect the communities they are working with."

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