Do mind the gap

Over the past few weeks a range of big publishers reported their gender pay gap figures, including Pearson, Springer Nature, Hachette UK and HarperCollins. The numbers are dire. That they are not out of step with society as a whole, or other media businesses, provides only a partial cover.

Pearson’s pay gap is slightly below the national median figure of 18.5%, as is Springer Nature’s, while at HarperCollins the pay gap is well below. Hachette’s figures reflect how these statistics are subject to interpretation: its headline number showed a median gap of 25%, but when its distribution units were included, it reported no gap. Nevertheless the trend is clear, and it is not hard to figure out why: as Pearson noted, the gender pay gap "is primarily a result of having fewer women in senior-level roles". At the bonus level, where for all these companies the gap widens significantly, the issue is exacerbated because of the proportion of women working flexible hours.

Publishing is a female-friendly business; the vast majority of employees at all of the big London-based publishers are women. Across the sector, according to the Publishers Association, 69% of staff are women. It is not the case—as I sometimes read in the wider media—that women in publishing do not occupy positions of power and influence, or are pushed into particular types of role.

There are many female managing directors in publishing, many women sales directors, many who work in IT and finance, and many in production. A number also run their own businesses. Publishing would not function without its female workers, writers and readers.

However—and it is clear now—something is either holding women back or not rewarding them appropriately. At Hachette UK, 72% of staff are women, but only half of those in its top salary band are women. At Pearson, 56% of employees are women, but they only make up 45% of its top earners. While four out of 12 of Hachette’s UK board are women, only one is on its executive committee. Among Pearson’s 13-strong executive team, three are women. At HarperCollins women dominate at all levels except the boardroom.

At Hachette’s recent sales presentation Deborah Frances-White, a.k.a. The Guilty Feminist, remarked on this—"you get to the top and these men have popped outta a side-wardrobe!" It was a joke with meaning.

If the gender pay gap is a result of flexible working, then we should ask why more men don’t do childcare; or why contribution cannot be measured more effectively than hours worked; if it is as a result of women taking career breaks, then we must ask why this stunts their prospects; if it is because of the glass ceiling, then we must ask men to move over. Publishing is in a unique position to get this right: there is no shortage of talent.