Why planners should be concerned about the gender pay gap, by John Geoghegan

Last week's legal deadline for companies to submit their gender pay gap data - showing the difference in average pay for their male and female employees - to the government has shone the spotlight on the issue of female representation in the planning profession.

This week, we've taken a look at how the biggest planning consultancies fare when it comes to the gender pay gap. Reporting on this sensitive issue is fraught with dangers. For example, our figures for the biggest consultancies show company-wide figures only. For some of the multidisciplinary and real estate firms, the planning teams are just small constituents in their overall mix. So the company-wide figures may not fully reflect the situation for their planning staff.

In addition, some critics have pointed out that the gender pay gap does not show unequal pay , which is forbidden by law, and is therefore not the best measure of discrimination. Instead, it reflects how many women are in more senior and higher-paid roles and is thus more accurately viewed as an indicator of gender diversity at the top levels.

In this respect, the picture does not look good for planning. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the overall pay gap among planning professionals is a median of 29 per cent, which is more than three times the national average and much worse than other built environment professions. Worryingly, it has risen in the past year, while the national average has declined. And all the consultancies we looked at had pay gaps above the national average.

It initially seems surprising that planning comes out badly in this area, particularly as Royal Town Planning Institute membership apparently includes greater female representation - at about half - compared to other built environment professional bodies. But clearly there is an issue with representation at the top levels.

What is encouraging is that the consultancy planning teams we spoke to say they are focused on addressing the issue, no doubt due in part to the government's mandatory reporting requirement. Groups like Women in Planning have also sought to highlight the importance of fairer gender representation in recent years. While there is much to be done, as the ONS figures show, many are hopeful that the sector is moving in the right direction.

John Geoghegan is deputy editor at Planning magazine john.geoghegan@haymarket.com

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