Guest blog: As property pay rises, the gender pay gap widens further – a look at inequality in the Built Environment

Cathy Higgs at University College of Estate Management

Salaries for UK property professionals have remained robust in 2017, with sector pay rises up 7.2 per cent overall – however, worryingly, the gender pay gap has widened significantly this year.

According to a 2017 survey of 8,000 surveyors by RICS and Macdonald & Company, male property professionals now earn on average £11,113 more than their female counterparts (£54,931 versus £43,818) – compared to 2016, when it was a £7000 pay gap. The pay difference appears across all age groups but is greatest for those aged between 46-55, where the variance in average salary is 25.7 per cent.

The Department for Education has backed up these findings revealing that the gender pay gap within construction stands at 23.3 per cent, compared with 18.1 per cent across the rest of UK industry. The DfE has stated that eliminating the pay gap across all industries could add up to £150bn to annual GDP by 2025.

Sarah Speirs, Director of Communications and External Affairs RICS, commented: “While it is encouraging that those entering the sector are now seeing pay equality, the fact that the pay gap has widened overall is disheartening. The industry has started to take action but must maintain this momentum to create a more balanced workforce that attracts the best talent if it wants to remain competitive.”

Why women – and diversity – are key to helping bridge the skills gap

The number of women in the Built Environment has always been very low and, unfortunately, it still has big issues with diversity. But in 2017, this is dispiriting; a diverse workforce fosters inclusion, respect, and openness – and, most importantly, increases the ability to find the right solutions for projects by utilising a variety of working styles.

The sector has been trying to widen participation for a while now – in not just gender but also age, ethnicity and more. And with a severe skills shortage, this is more essential than ever; the UK’s National Infrastructure Plan for Skills reveals that the sector will need over 250,000 construction and over 150,000 engineering construction workers by 2020, driving a need to recruit and train nearly 100,000 additional workers by the end of the decade.

The RICS report shows the gender pay gap is now less evident in those starting out in property with females earning slightly more than males. The challenge is that it will take a very long time for this younger generation of professionals to flow up into more senior roles. If we wait for the lower end to move up and start having an influence – we’ll be waiting 20 years or more. We need a significant shift in our skills strategy, from entry-level roles to encouraging experienced professionals from other industries into senior roles in the sector.

To increase the number of women in the Built Environment, we need to increase the awareness of the diversity of career opportunities; when thinking of our sector, people tend to immediately think of physical roles such as ‘Bricklaying’. I also think awareness needs to start earlier in the education journey; at secondary if not primary school. There just isn’t enough education about the different roles available or enough of a push for female students to consider it as a career. And, ultimately, it’s our responsibility to make our sector an attractive place to be a part of – a large part of which is offering equal pay.

UK Built Environment organisations have recognised the importance of supporting all potential employees in educational and business development; and are offering initiatives such as apprenticeships in order to engage new and diverse talent, but it’s obvious we need to do more – and soon.

Cathy Higgs MRICS is Associate Head of Faculty for Construction at UCEM. She has over 25 years’ of experience lecturing in Quantity Surveying and is a co-author of Willis’s Practice and Procedure for Quantity Surveying. For more information on the Undergraduate, Postgraduate and CPD Distance Learning provision for Quantity Surveying, Building Surveying and Construction Project Management, please click here.