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Comment: What does fashion’s gender pay gap data actually tell us?

Thousands of UK companies – including 139 fashion, footwear and accessories brands and retailers – have filed their gender pay gap figures for 2018/19, shining a spotlight on the issue of gender equality in the workplace.

Companies with 250 employees or more are required by law to report the difference between how much their male and female employees earn. Six metrics are collected, including the gender pay gap in hourly pay as both a mean and median average.

This is the second time retailers have been forced to disclose their gender pay data information. When the first wave of figures was published this time last year, much of the high street argued that its gender pay data was being driven by the higher proportion of women in lower-paid, but ultimately more flexible, store roles.

Speaking to Drapers last April, industry bosses said that, although they welcomed steps to help drive more inclusive business practices, too much emphasis was put on flashy headline figures that did not paint an accurate picture of gender equality.

Gender equality3

Drapers lifts the lid on gender inequality in fashion

This spring, Drapers carried out a wide-ranging survey into gender inequality in the fashion retail industry. Some of the findings were shocking.

A year on, and what does the latest set of figures reveal about the fashion industry? Women working in fashion, footwear and accessories were paid a median average of 92p for every £1 earned by men in 2018/19 – the same as last year.

And the in-depth reports published for each company tell a similar story to 2017: fashion retailers with some of the largest median gender pay gaps have argued that their figures are skewed by predominately female workforces, in which a handful of male employees sit in top head office roles.

Fitness retailer Sweaty Betty, for example, reported a median gender pay gap of 66.6%. On average, women earn a paltry 33p for every £1 made by its male employees, the retailer’s pay data shows. But within its report, founder and creative director Tamara Hill-Norton argues that this is because it has relatively few male employees.

Fashion retailers with some of the largest median gender pay gaps have argued that their figures are skewed by predominately female workforces

Almost all – 99% – of Sweaty Betty’s workforce is female. Its retail staff are all female, despite “best efforts” to attract a more diverse workforce. Most – 80% – of its leadership team is female and its highest-paid employee is also female. 

Womenswear retailer Mint Velvet’s gender pay figures tell a similar tale. It reported a median gender pay gap of 62.2% – among the industry’s highest. Mint Velvet argued that it has a strong gender bias within its business. Again, almost all of its workforce – 98.7% – is female. More than half of its employees – 54% – are women working in part-time store roles and the retailer said that most of its 10 male team members are in higher-paid head office roles – resulting in its pay gap.

Plus-size specialist Yours Clothing, which reported a 54% median gender pay gap, also stressed that this does not point to a variance in pay for like-for-like roles.

This year’s reporting also shows that retailers’ gender pay figures can fluctuate dramatically from year to year – but not necessarily as the result of a more egalitarian pay structure.

Lingerie retailer Boux Avenue, for example, reduced its median gender pay gap from 75.7% in 2017 to 15.6% last year. Although the retailer argues that it continues to focus on offering opportunities across all areas of its business, it also admits that the significant change in its pay statistics have been driven by a new warehouse, which opened in October last year. More than one-fifth – 21% – of the warehouse team are men, which accounts for the dramatic drop.

Imperfect measure

Gender pay reporting is by no means a perfect metric for accessing gender equality. There is sometimes a story to be told behind the numbers. However, gender pay gap reporting does keep the issue of gender equality at the forefront of retailers’ minds and can provide impetus for positive change.

Yes, store roles within womenswear retailers in particular are more likely to attract female employees, thanks to flexible working conditions and a natural appeal. But retailers must ensure that opportunities for women do not diminish the further up the career ladder they climb.

Retailers must ensure that opportunities for women do not diminish the further up the career ladder they climb

Even putting the numbers aside, it is obvious there is plenty of work to be done with it comes to diversity in fashion. Female chief executives are still the exception, not the rule. Gender discrimination and inappropriate behaviour towards women are still rife in workplaces across the high street, as our exclusive survey revealed earlier this year. Almost half of respondents said they had encountered gender discrimination and more than a third (36%) had experienced inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.

Fashion also needs to work harder when it comes to other types of diversity. Just 4.8% of retail sector board members are from a non-white ethnic background, a report by recruitment consultancy Green Park showed last year, despite the UK population being 13% non-white. There is still more work to be done on all types of diversity in fashion.

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