News / Opinion

The gender pay gap in the creative industry is “all but invisible from the debate”

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Charlie Phipps

Gemma Germains, senior content strategist at Dare, writes on the gender pay gap in the creative industry, and how we can expose it, for all our sakes.

I feel sorry for the gender pay gap. It must be hard to sustain slow burn interest in a story with so few new surprises.

In case you lost interest weeks ago, here are the headlines:

80% of UK companies (with 250 or more employees) pay women less than men.
There isn’t a single industry where women are paid the same as men.
The Communication and Information sector (that’s sort of us, the design industry) is one of the top five worst industries for women.

The gender pay gap is the first, small step towards accountability. For every company claiming to be “good for women” there’s now a set of data to prove or dispel their claims.

90% of the Times Top 50 Employers for Women had a gender pay gap. 50% had a gap larger than the national average.

The problem is 94.8% of design and creative tech companies, classed as “micro companies” will never file a report. As one of the UK’s most profitable economies, generating £92 billion a year, we’re all but invisible from the pay gap debate.

Those advertising and architecture agencies who did file reported startling discrepancies (Ogilvy 24%, WPP 32.8%, Foster and Partners 10.5%).

There are enough stats knocking around to paint a pretty grim picture of our sector.

The industry is 88% white and 54% male. 81% of our decision makers are male.

The gender pay gap is name and shame on a national level. Naming comes with culpability. Shaming forces someone to actually take responsibility.

As an industry, we know things are bad. We also don’t think that “we” have a problem. Generalised numbers and anonymous surveys make discrimination always someone else’s fault.

So far, I can think of only one agency (full disclosure, it’s mine) that has voluntarily published their gap (4% yo). And while it’s admirable they would want to, it doesn’t solve any immediate problems. A load of good agencies, publishing good numbers would actually make things worse.

Look at the kicking Missguided is getting for their faux feminist rhetoric and 46% gap. Imbalanced design agencies have no reason to volunteer their stats.

Given the money we generate, it’s alarming the majority of the creative industries aren’t governed by the same rules as the rest of the UK. We’re a wealthy, powerful industry that somehow gets to make up the rules as we go along (for example the annual reminder that unpaid internships are still illegal).

We need our governing bodies to step in and take charge now. Membership should be limited to those who publish. Awards open only to those who publish. Research, insight and training afforded only to those who publish.

Yeah, it’s draconian but it’s necessary. We’ve proven time and again we can’t be trusted to look after ourselves.

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Charlie Phipps