WOMEN
04/10/2018 06:30 am ET Updated Apr 10, 2018

This Isn’t A Pay ‘Gap,’ It’s A Freaking Black Hole

Shocking new data from the U.K. reveal the harsh truth about the fight for equal pay. Women are virtually shut out from all the top-paying jobs.

This year, big companies in the United Kingdom were forced to do something amazing: actually reveal the difference in how men and women are paid.

Thanks to a law passed last year, businesses in the U.K. that employ more than 250 workers are now required to report gender differences in both hourly wages and bonus pay. More than 10,000 companies reported data by the April 4 deadline

The numbers were bleak, though hardly surprising. As they do all over the world, women in the U.K. make less than men. Women’s median pay is close to 10 percent less than men’s, the data showed. At 80 percent of businesses that reported data in the U.K., men outearn women.

But the numbers revealed something else. By breaking things down by wage level, the data reveal what percentage of the best- and worst-paying roles are held by women. In doing so, they show a major reason for the pay disparity:  Women are making less not because men earn more for the same work, but because women aren’t getting the best-paying jobs.

At the granular level, the numbers were truly eye-popping. Men earn more than double what women make at some companies, demonstrating that when it comes to equal pay, women aren’t just facing a “gap,” they’re staring down a vast, dystopic hole of inequity.

The male-dominated finance industry was one of the worst offenders. At Goldman Sachs in the U.K., women earn 55.5 percent less than men, according to data the company submitted. Other global finance firms in the U.K. reported similar numbers. Women at Barclays make 48 percent less on average than men. At HSBC, the gap is 59 percent. JPMorgan reported paying women 36 percent less on average.

At Goldman, 83 percent of the top-paying jobs are held by men, the company’s data showed. At Barclays, men represent 81 percent of the bank’s top earners. Even at the U.K. outpost of Condé Nast, publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and Glamour, where women are a majority at every pay level, men still outearn women by 36.9 percent on average because of a few highly paid men sitting at the tippy top.

Women don’t stand a chance at pay equality if they’re not making it to the top.

The revelations from the U.K. shine a light on the key issue when it comes to the gender pay gap. Women don’t stand a chance at pay equality if they’re not making it to the top.

And the findings are worth paying attention to in the U.S., especially this Tuesday, a symbolic day of the year for women. It’s Equal Pay Day, the day women finally “catch up” in earnings to what men made in 2017. It’s also when everyone who cares about gender equality will be offering up their take on why the pay gap exists ― women earn 80 percent of what men make on average in the U.S. ― and how to fix it.

The companies that reported data in the U.K. offered mostly toothless solutions.

In a letter to its employees, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein and its president and CEO heir apparent David Solomon acknowledged that there aren’t enough women in senior roles. They’re totally working on it, they said. The company is committed to having women make up 30 percent of the jobs at the vice president level and above by 2023 (that’s not equality, btw). Blankfein and Solomon also are looking to have women make up half of its entry-level workforce in three years.

Those goals are somewhat laudable ― though awfully late in the making, since gender equality in banking is something that’s been talked about for decades. Mostly they seem like PR. Big companies have been launching “women’s initiatives” for a long time and still there’s been little movement at the top.

For the truth about who holds the power at Goldman, just look at who was in the running to succeed Blankfein as CEO: Solomon and another man. Hardly a diverse slate of candidates. It’s likely there were few suitable female candidates internally, as there are only two female executive officers out of 11 at the company.

There are far too many women and men who think the reason women aren’t making it up the ladder lies with the women themselves: They “leave before they leave,” Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg once said, dialing down ambition because they want to have a family. Or they don’t “lean in,” as she famously put it, placing the blame more on women for not being aggressive enough.

And studies have shown clearly that women who become mothers face huge disadvantages at work because they do have to devote time to child-rearing.

However, that’s only part of the reason women aren’t making it up the corporate ladder. Many leave because they’re sexually harassed. Others quit because they’re not getting promoted by the boys’ club at the top. And those promotions aren’t coming, in part, because of stereotypes. The men in charge hold certain beliefs about what women want out of their careers ― and often they don’t bother checking to make sure their beliefs line up with reality.

When she was an investment banker at JPMorgan, Sacha Nitsetska, talked to more than 100 women there, asking them what the bank could do to keep women from leaving. “The answers were very similar: increased pay transparency, clarity on career progression and bonuses, and mentorship from the seniors,” Nitsetska writes in a post for the U.K. site efinancialcareers.

But when she told senior management about her findings, she said, they did not believe her.

“I was told that none of this was true and that in fact, the women are leaving because ‘they want to raise children,’” she writes.

At JPMorgan in the U.K., 78 percent of the top-paying jobs are held by men. Presumably many of those men have children, but somehow they’re making it work.

No women were in the running to succeed Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
Bloomberg via Getty Images
No women were in the running to succeed Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
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