Most big UK banks still have a gender pay gap of over 30%

Are they walking the walk?
Are they walking the walk?
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
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When the UK’s annual gender pay gap numbers come out there’s always the possibility of a dramatic change showing up in the data. Companies are by now well aware of the problem with paying women less than men, and they many make plenty of noise about trying to solve it.

But when it comes to banking—which, of any sector, surely has the resources to make a change—the startlingly large gender pay gaps just don’t seem to be going away.

HSBC Bank Plc, an entity which employs 2,000 people in the UK and includes HSBC’s global banking and markets business, has the biggest gender pay gap, at 54% in 2020-21, meaning that women earn just 46 pence for every £1 men earn. That’s actually an improvement from 2018-19, when the gap stood at 61%.

HSBC says the disparity comes from the high proportion of senior men in this business: Its top quartile in that division is 91% male to 9% female. Addressing that disparity is presumably a prerequisite for fixing the pay disparity.

HSBC UK, meanwhile, which contains the company’s UK retail banking operations and employs upwards of 20,000 people, has a less pronounced gap, but still over 30%. That’s about where the rest of the UK’s big banks fall, with Barclays leading the way towards parity with a gap of 24%.

The bigger picture on gender pay-gap data

Gender pay gap reporting has been mandatory in the UK since 2017 for every employer with more than 250 employees. At a national level, the gap is much smaller than it is for the banks, and shrinking: For full-time employees the average gap was 7.4% in April 2020, according to the UK Office for National Statistics, down from 9% the previous year.

Mandatory pay-gap reporting is certainly helping the situation, according to a recent report from Kings College London and the Fawcett Society, which compared pay-gap data gathering efforts across Europe. But the report said the UK’s system was toothless in comparison to other countries, like Spain, which do more to compel companies to fix the issue. In the UK, while larger companies have to report gaps, they’re under no obligation to deal with them.

The UK is now a laggard on narrowing the gender pay gap

From its “groundbreaking” beginnings, the UK has begun to lag behind other countries that are now “going further, faster,” said professor Rosie Campbell, director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, in a statement. Campbell also noted that the pandemic had affected women in the workplace disproportionately. Mandatory reporting was frozen in 2020 and delayed this year from April until October to allow companies time to catch up. By the deadline, some companies had not yet reported, while others with workers on furlough had to account for that in the numbers they submitted.

By next year, when the full impact of women leaving the workforce will likely be more evident in the data, companies may need to work even harder than before to narrow pay gaps. And at that point, the numbers won’t even take into account the extent to which women who were working before the pandemic are now outside the workforce completely.