The Gender Pay Gap in Publishing

Posted on August 23, 2020 in Oxford

Is publishing taking the gender pay gap seriously?

By law equal work needs to receive equal pay. However, that does not mean women and men are now equal in the workplace. Women often find themselves in lower positions that pay less money than those of their male peers. This difference in pay of men and women at a company is called the gender pay gap. It would have been the third sequential year in which UK companies with more than 250 employees are legally required to publicly report it to create awareness of inequalities and increase pressure on companies to support women’s careers. But for the first time since its introduction in 2017 the requirement to submit by the beginning of April has been suspended as a consequence of the global coronavirus pandemic. While this decision has hopefully helped some companies, which were overwhelmed with protecting their workforce and the viability of their businesses, it has also created an opportunity for some to hide their figures or lack of progress. According to the Financial Times, only half the number of UK businesses decided to report their gender pay gap this year. But luckily not so in the Publishing industry.

Pay gap in Publishing: progress and trends

Pay gap is the absolute or percentage difference between one group’s pay and another’s.

If all salaries were sorted from smallest to largest, the median pay is the one in the middle.

If all salaries were summed up and then divided by the total number of people earning them, the resulting average is the mean pay.

A few very high or very low figures can drastically change the average or mean pay, which may not represent the salaries of the majority of the people.


The good news is that out of the twelve publishers in scope, only one did not report their pay gap this year. The bad news is that only a slightly larger number of publishers decreased the gap than those who increased it. The largest reduction in median pay gap observed was 3.1 percentage points from 19% down to 15.9%. Other publishing houses have considerably higher gaps to close and at the same time have made less progress. At 37% higher median pay for men in one case, the systematic disadvantages for women in the workplace become evident. It highlights that it will take conscious efforts, persistent reevaluating and targeted action to create equal opportunities for women and leverage their chances to earn better salaries.

Notably, one out of the twelve publishers shows a negative pay gap, meaning that the average pay for women is higher than for men. This gap has further increased from -28% in 2018 to -36% in 2019. Having a negative pay gap needs to be taken just as seriously, as this shows that men might be getting stuck in the lower positions of this company.

Fortunately, gender pay gap reports do not only disclose median and mean gender pay gaps but also bonus pay gaps, the percentage of men and women receiving bonuses at all and the share of men and women in the lowest to highest paid quartiles of jobs. This information helps to better interpret the inequalities than just looking at one figure, as abnormalities can skew results.

In publishing it is almost ubiquitous that in total there are more positions filled by women than men. Nonetheless, the lowest paid quartile of positions is filled to 65% by women on average, while they represent 45% in the top quarter. Bonuses are in some cases paid to an equal share of men and women but considerably higher ones to men.


What publishers are doing to close the gap – and what they should be doing

As well as reporting the mandatory figures through the government’s gender pay gap service, almost all companies publish a more extensive report on their websites to explain their findings, measures taken and any planned steps going forwards.

The most popular measures publishers are taking to minimise the gap are offering leadership development training and workplace flexibility. The measures mentioned most after those two are establishing networks and providing mentoring schemes. When comparing these with the actions in the government handbook, it is noticeable that they are all listed as either “promising” or as “actions with mixed results”. A lot of actions taken sound promising but are not even featured in the government guideline.

More than 40% of publishers did however list diversity initiatives/managers and more than 30% the conscious inclusion of multiple women in shortlists, which are part of the “effective actions”.

What publishers are doing today is a good start but it is just that – a start. The aspiration is equal opportunities and until that is achieved, support is required for the disadvantaged. This is true for both women as well as other groups. A positive example on this note may be that one of the publishers voluntarily published an ethnicity pay gap report for the first time.

In summary, bias, a lack of transparency, outdated recruiting practices and too little supervision when appointing positions are still putting a brake on women’s careers and their potential to earn higher salaries. Publishers are taking conscious efforts to reduce the gap but it seems likely that these actions are driven more by what seems practical, achievable and logical rather than data-driven. If publishers want to make a more drastic impact, they need to focus on proven actions and go down the uncomfortable path of changing their organisations, not only establish employee-driven initiatives and sometimes untargeted training and development.

From an individual point of view, one way to ensure businesses are paying enough attention to the topic of inclusivity is to be informed about a company’s pay gap and structure, talk about it with managers and colleagues, and to challenge the measures taken.

By Sandra van der Linde, 2020 Inclusivity Officer for SYP Oxford