The latest gender pay gap figures released by the UK government show that women are being paid 90p for every £1 earned by men on average. Reports suggest the property industry gap is much wider, with women paid just under 70p for every £1 earned by men – or a gap of 31.9%.
Submitting a report is helpful in highlighting the issue, but the gap will never reduce if employers do not actively take steps to tackle it.
Embracing flexible working practices is an example of such a step. With women traditionally bearing a greater burden of childcare obligations than men – known as the childcare disparity – flexible working arrangements allow women to reconcile these two often competing aspects of their lives. So, why is it not more popular?
While some property development roles can be done remotely, most jobs in the sector involve visiting locations, meeting with surveyors and architects and being present on site.
Another factor is the lack of encouragement for young girls to attend college to complete apprenticeships in careers such as surveying or to study STEM subjects. With only 15% of the property industry’s workforce made up of women, according to a study by Women and the Economy, the male-dominated workplace is likely to make women feel unwelcome.
Flexible working is not just about allowing employees to work from home all the time. Job shares, part-time hours, compressed hours and flexitime are also effective measures.
Thanks to technology, more tasks can now be carried out remotely. For example, project managers, engineers and surveyors can use pictures, scans and videos to evidence progress of work on site, without having to be physically there.
In addition, employers can offer enhanced shared parental pay as an effective means of reducing their gender pay gap. Offering this will increase the number of couples who use shared parental leave (SPL), allowing both parents to share the childcare obligations more equally and reducing the ‘pregnancy penalty’ that women often suffer.
The decision of whether to opt for SPL ultimately comes down to money; but the more employers offer enhanced SPL pay, the more couples are likely to opt for it.
Wates Group, a UK-based family-owned business, is one of the first construction and property development companies to adopt flexible working practices across its entire business – even for those employees who are site-based.
Their employees have been encouraged to experiment with different flexible working arrangements to discover what works best for them individually. This sets a great example for the rest of the industry, in showing that flexible working is possible for all roles in the construction and property sector.
It is also worth noting that many were expecting the proposed Employment Bill to make flexible working the default, as was promised by the government. But following the consultation published in September 2021, it became clear that the government was not going to make good on its promises.
But this does not mean employers like Wates Group cannot take action now: making flexible working the norm, increasing family leave pay and reviewing their recruitment and retention policies to ensure they are attracting and retaining women across their businesses.
Alex Christen is an employment lawyer at Capital Law