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Women lack confidence at work: Research illustrates reasons behind persistent gender pay gap in UK

More than half of female professionals have never negotiated a pay rise

  • 54% of women are unsatisfied with pay, with men on average receiving a bigger increase following negotiation
  • Just one fifth of women know what they need to do to get a promotion
  • 41% state lack of opportunities is the biggest barrier for women

More than half of all female professionals – 57 per cent – have never attempted to negotiate a pay rise, according to research conducted by Robert Walters.

Download the full research.

Its findings reveal that men are 23 per cent more likely to negotiate a pay rise across all stages of their career, even though the amount that negotiators pitch for is not far removed from their female counterparts.

More than half of women professionals – 54 per cent – are unsatisfied with their pay, feeling it is not a fair reflection of what they do.

On average, men tend to receive an eight per cent increase in their salary following a negotiation, whereas women typically receive six per cent.

Consequently, men are more likely even after a negotiation to feel that their salary is an accurate reflection of the work they do (38 per cent versus 30 per cent).

It's clear employers can do more to help empower women for scenarios such as negotiating pay rises or striving for promotion.

Robert Walters surveyed over 9,000 professionals across the UK as part of the research into diversity in the workplace. The findings help to explain the persistent gender pay gap seen at nearly eight in ten larger firms.  

The top three challenges to progression at work were lack of opportunities, cited by 41 per cent of female professionals, balancing work and family, cited by 35 per cent, and lack of training, cited by 24 per cent.

Over a quarter of men (27 per cent) claim to know what they need to do to get a promotion versus less than a fifth of women (19 per cent). Some 21 per cent of women want more support from management to understand routes to promotion.

22 per cent of women, versus 13 per cent of men, reported that a lack of confidence was a barrier to progression.

A third of men and women reported that they struggled to equally balance their work and family commitments. According to the research, flexible hours is ranked as the nation’s most preferred work perk, by 63 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men respectively.

As of 2018, nearly eight in ten firms (78 per cent) with over 260 employees have a pay gap in favour of men – according to the official government report. Men are over-represented in higher paid jobs, while the proportion of women falls the further up the pay scale you go.

Men are also paid higher bonuses. The finance sector has the biggest bonus gap – for every £1 of bonus money paid to men working in finance, their female colleagues will take home just 65p. Other sectors that reported large bonus gaps included the education, health and construction sectors.

Sectors with the most unequal gender representation included engineering, which is 90 per cent male, logistics, which is 90 per cent male, and technology, which is 77 per cent male.

Chris Hickey, UK CEO at Robert Walters, said: “All the right strides are being made to get women into work – with female professionals making up 47% of the workforce. In addition we’re seeing more women working in core science, technology, engineering & math (STEM) than ever before*. 

“The next steps is taking findings from reports such as this and acting on them. For example, women need to feel more confident about their value to firms and it's clear employers can do more to help empower them for scenarios such as negotiating pay rises or striving for promotion.

“What this report also highlights is that women – from junior through to senior levels – see a lack of gender representation (at their level or) above as a key barrier to them being able to progress. Employers need to understand the effects of unconscious bias, and take active steps on how they can best eliminate this.”:

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