Mend The Gap: Learning About The Gender Pay Gap & How To Fix It

10 minute read

Charities with a gender pay gap should see the moment as an opportunity to look at the culture and practice of their organisation

Vicky Browning, Chief Executive of ACEVO

What charities and recruiters can learn from the gender pay figures.

So, we got there in the end.

Midnight on 4 April 2018 came and went, and over 10,000 companies employing more than 250 people submitted their figures for gender pay. Many did it just in the nick of time, with over half adding their data in the final week.

The results stirred up debate across all media with many frustrated by the nature of the results – they tell us something, but clearly not everything. They’re a blunt instrument, and overdue too.

And for us in the charity sector, trawling through the numbers can be a tricky game as most registered charities are too small to be expected to report their figures. 97% of registered charities in the UK have an income of less than £1 million and so are unlikely to employ more than 250 people, and a further 600,000 micro charities are too small to be registered in the first place.

The NCVO got this ahead of time. Although they employ less than 250 people, they chose to publish their own gender pay figures, calling on other smaller organisations to do likewise in the belief that it shows a commitment to transparency that enhances trust and confidence.

This is not only the right thing to do and a valuable tool to think harder about how to maximise talent in the workplace, but it is also a way to move towards increased transparency which promotes public trust and confidence in charities.

Sue Cordingley, Director of Planning and Resources at the NCVO

Anna Bawden and Connor Ibbetson, found that only 286 organisations with fewer than 250 employees chose to report—but that’s across all sectors. We don’t know how many were charities and others will have done it independently rather than reporting to the Government.

The same article analysed figures submitted by the largest charities and from that came up with a median hourly gender pay gap of 5.4% in favour of men. That’s low, compared to the national average for all sectors that’s generally quoted as 9.1%.

However, an overall figure for the charity sector depends on criteria used. In an earlier article published by Civil Society, freelance data analyst Dave Kane found 568 charities amongst the 10,000 who reported—and from them, he was able to come up with an overall mean hourly gender pay gap for the charity sector that’s 8% in favour of men.

These two articles alone show why gender pay reporting is so confusing. As well as using different criteria for “charity”, there are all the small charities that didn’t report to think about too—and there’s a difference between mean and median figures. Median is generally the most quoted as it allows for figures being skewed by a few exceptional high salaries, making Median the more accurate approach to reporting.

Putting an overall figure for the charity sector to one side then, it’s worth drilling down deeper to see how the big brand charities fared. You can get a real sense of their make-up—a larger than average gender pay gap for no obvious reason, has to say something. Particularly, as I’m sure we can all consider the numbers in the context of a charity’s function (and how that might impact on gender dominance of certain roles).

And looking at the percentage of men and women employed in each quartile of the pay structure is an eye-opener; giving a snapshot of how gender is represented in leadership roles within the big charities, and in low pay jobs.

You can have a search at the Gender Pay Gap resource page of the UK Gov webiste

Or here are some big brand charities chosen at random:

Cancer Research UK

Mean gender pay gap: 18.7% in favour of men

Median gender pay gap: 19.2% in favour of men



Mean gender pay gap: 16.6% in favour of men

Median gender pay gap: 17.5% in favour of men


Macmillan Cancer Care

Mean gender pay gap: 10.3% in favour of men

Median gender pay gap: 9.9% in favour of men


Save the Children International

Mean gender pay gap: 18.8% in favour of men

Median gender pay gap: 12.3% in favour of men


Royal Star and Garter Homes

Mean gender pay gap: 6.2% in favour of men

Median gender pay gap: 0%



Mean gender pay gap: 8.4% in favour of men

Median gender pay gap: 7.4% in favour of men


Royal British Legion

Mean gender pay gap: 20.6% in favour of men

Median gender pay gap: 21.3% in favour of men



Mean gender pay gap: 0.7% in favour of men

Median gender pay gap: 1.7% in favour of men


University of Leeds

Mean gender pay gap: 22.5% in favour of men

Median gender pay gap: 15.8% in favour of men


The Arts Council of England

Mean gender pay gap: 6.7% in favour of men

Median gender pay gap: 2.6% in favour of men


National Trust for Scotland

Mean gender pay gap: 15.4% in favour of men

Median gender pay gap: 21.4% in favour of men

Bottom heavy

Put these figures against the 9.1% national average, and you could say these large charities aren’t doing too badly and some, like the RNLI and Shelter are doing well. However, look at the distribution within the quartiles, and nearly all the charities featured have a disproportionate percentage of men in the upper quartiles and women are over-represented in the lower ones.

So, the charity sector is “bottom heavy”. Lots of women in lower paid roles and more men in top jobs.

But this chimes with what we know to be the case about gender pay across all sectors:

“there are more people called David or Steve who head up FTSE 100 companies than there are women or ethnic minorities.”

So, if it’s the same everywhere, and our sector is no worse than others and better than most, has the gender pay debate thrown up anything that’s specifically important for the charity sector?

Is there anything that we can learn from the reported figures.


Do we need to mend the gap?

We say yes. The gender pay figures show a persisting imbalance in gender pay among charities when arguably we should be better than other organisations in the private and public sector, given our female dominated workforce.

Charities are over two-thirds women. Women want to work for charities. Women like charities. Women trust them more than men do. Women support charities more than men do. Women volunteer more. Women petition and campaign more*.

Surely this should mean that if there is a gender pay gap, it should be nudging the other way? So why isn’t it?

It seems that, as with other sectors, it’s a lot to do with the impact of flexible working, part-time hours and so, by extension, the impact of caring responsibilities on a career—and pay.

And the “motherhood penalty”.

Things that are super important for charities, given:

1. The number of women working for charities

2. The numbers or women working part-time or flexibly in our sector (36% according to latest NCVO UK Civil Society Almanac for 2018).

So, we asked our candidates what they thought.

The Realities of Caring Responsibilities

Have caring responsibilities at home meant a need to work flexibly or part-time? How has this been accommodated by the charities they’ve worked for? And do they think it’s affected their career, and so salary? Is there a “motherhood penalty”? Are the charities they’re working for helping out with childcare vouchers or nursery provision?

Over 100 candidates who are currently working in our sector replied. Nearly as many of them are working part-time as full time (41% to 48%) and a further 11% work flexibly.

Nearly 60% (59.14%) believe their career to date has been affected by caring responsibilities.

That includes caring for children, parents a partner or other. It also includes the impact of maternity/paternity leave, or a career break.

The women who replied often speak of the impact of a career break after having children.

Just as frequently, women speak of the impact of having to care for a sick parent or partner with 50% of them having caring responsibilities that are other than childcare.

“If I hadn’t taken a career break to look after my children my career path would have continued and I would be earning twice the salary I am on now.”


“Did not get a promotion. My colleague who started the job after me and has fewer years of experience got offered the promotion instead. I always felt this was because she works full time and did not take carers leave.”


“I have not been able to take up posts that require more hours. This impacts on the kinds of roles I can take as most managerial roles are full time.”


“I can’t advance due to needing to work part time flexible hours so it’s hard to find employment which enables me to advance career and look after children.”


“Due to my caring role for my elderly widowed mum, this restricts the jobs I can apply for as I cannot work full time and care for mum over 20 hours per week. The jobs I can apply for do not always use my skills and qualifications and employers do not seem to acknowledge the value of part-time staff.”

Survey Results

And the survey data shows the effect of part-time hours on pay:

49% of the full-timers who responded are in a salary bracket above £30,000 a year, in comparison to only 6% of those working part-time. Only one person working part-time is in a salary bracket over £40,000 a year, compared to 23% of full-timers.

Those on part-time hours didn’t specify whether their salary bracket was pro rata, but if we assume it is, then clearly part-time pay is lagging behind full time.

This ties-in with one of the key findings to have emerged during the gender pay debate for all sectors — that the impact of part-time hours is key to understanding gender pay. How this can be addressed is the focus of a recent report from the flexible working specialist Timewise, and Deloitte (A Manifesto for Change: A Modern Workplace for a Flexible Workforce). It pinpoints the ways in which all organisations can improve gender diversity and gender pay through embracing flexible working, at all levels.

But here in the charity sector, there’s definitely a flip side to consider, and that’s reflected in many positive comments about there being more flexible/part-time opportunities in the charity sector. (Even if that can impact negatively on the gender pay gap).

“I took a ten-year career break, but still feel I am where I want to be at this point in my career. I actually returned to the non-charity sector (education) and found having had a career break and child care responsibilities had a large impact on my career and the perception of me there. But no problems within the charity sector.”


“I am very fortunate to have an employer that fully supports my caring needs.”


“My workplace has always been flexible with my work pattern.”


“Worked in the corporate sector prior to the charitable sector. Choice of charity sector was to find flexibility with working pattern.”

How to fix it

It means we benefit from a talented workforce distinguished by experienced, professional people who are proactively choosing to work in a way that’s sustainable for their lifestyle and commitments.

If we want to capitalise on this and work to redress the gender pay gap too, things we could do include:


Flexible working. A request for flexible working should be gender neutral.

 Think “why not?” rather than “why?”. And design flexibility into the job description, so that it’s not just an add-on.

It benefits men as well as women and is crucial to creating a healthy work-life balance across an organisation. It’s not only about childcare, but about spreading the load of caring responsibilities. Foster a climate in which there are positive role models—men and women who are valued in leadership and management roles, but who embrace flexible working practices.


Consider flexible working for all roles. Including CEO and leadership roles.

Just adding “will consider flexible working” to an ad for a senior role, will open the door to experienced people who would otherwise only choose to work as a consultant or on a contract. It can shake up the mix and make-up of an organisation and can have long-term advantages.

Offering a senior role as a job-share can be a particularly effective way of refreshing the way in which an organisation operates.


Make sure that your appraisal/review system is fair and transparent.

It must be exactly the same for everyone, regardless of their working pattern and should assume the same expectations around career progression.

Asking someone how things are at home is well meant, but don’t just ask the part-time/flexible workers. It’s an equally valid question for full-timers without obvious caring needs—and shouldn’t set the tone for an appraisal or review with someone who works flexibly.

Don’t treat the rest of their review as a “tick-boxing” exercise, because they’ll “grateful” to have the flexible hours.

These things sound obvious, but an unconscious bias towards treating full-time jobs more seriously than flexible/part-time roles is something we’ve probably all been guilty of at times.


Make childcare facilities or support for childcare needs available to women and men.

Not one single person who replied to our survey worked for a charity that had an on-site nursery and only one person worked for a charity that had a partnership scheme with a childcare provider. Only a quarter of respondents’ employers offered childcare vouchers.

Of course, cash is at a premium for charities, but there are solutions that aren’t expensive but can still help mothers (and fathers) to carry on working. Like partnership schemes with local nurseries, or seeing if working hours can reasonably be adjusted around school holidays or early/late starts. Expect that a new father will need not only 2 weeks off after the baby’s born—but might need to adjust their hours, or take a career break.


Make sure the wording of all job ads and job descriptions is gender neutral.

A recent article by BBC News, highlighted new AI/software that’s now used in the US tech industries in particular, to scan job descriptions for terms that could come across as particularly masculine or feminine. It then offers alternatives.

It’s easy to be cynical, but it’s working! Australian software company, Atlassian, used the software for its job ad copy, and found an 80% increase in the hiring of women in technical roles globally over a two year period.

And it works both ways. In the same way that we need to check that ads for senior roles aren’t using language that particularly attracts men, we need to be sure that our ads for entry level or middle management roles aren’t presupposing it’s a job for a female graduate. So aren’t using language that’d subconsciously appeal more to women than men.

If we’re to redress the gender pay gap in our sector, we need to be prepared to shake up gender diversity at all levels.

It’s by taking steps like this that the charity sector can make the most of the things that make us such a special place to work.

We attract and employ a lot of women. And we’re open to flexible and part-time work that’s often the choice for those with caring responsibilities.  Which is often women.

But we need to do more to ensure that these jobs are treated with exactly the same seriousness as full-time roles. That there’s the same potential for career development and that part-time salaries catch up with their full-time equivalents. In this way, charities can start to Mend the Gap, and get more from the high calibre of people who choose to work for us.


* CAF UK Giving Report 2018

Further references:

The Charity Gender Pay Gap Report

More about the gender pay gap and how we can fix it.

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Jean Merrylees

Jean Merrylees is a freelance content writer and editor who has previously written for the BBC. Jean is now taking her first steps into the charity sector after spending some time writing for both Diabetes UK & CharityJob.

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