'This is a start' - PRWeek launches Pay Gap Project 2021

Lack of diversity remains a big problem for the UK PR industry. Here PRWeek UK editor John Harrington reports on this major new initiative to encourage greater transparency on the issue.

'This is a start' - PRWeek launches Pay Gap Project 2021
'This is a start' - PRWeek launches Pay Gap Project 2021

In an industry that has historically lacked representation – in senior roles, at least – discussions about pay gaps in PR are nothing new.

Research by the PRCA found men were, on average, paid 15 per cent more than women in the sector in May 2020*. The gap widened to 21 per cent in October, although the trade body cited more senior respondents in that survey. Either way, it’s disappointing for an industry in which about two-thirds of the workforce is female.

Figures for the ethnicity pay gap in comms are more difficult to come by, though research points to clear disparities. One in five UK PR agencies employs no non-white staff, while almost four in five have all-white boards, according to figures released by PRWeek in May this year. The CIPR’s 2020 Race in PR report found many ethnic minority practitioners face significant barriers to inclusion and career progression.

Meanwhile, a survey for People Like Us, the networking group for minority ethnic media and marcomms professionals, found BME staff working in marcomms took a greater pay cut (18 per cent) than their white peers (15 per cent) in the depths of the COVID-19 crisis. But, aside from the handful of UK consultancies required by law to report gender pay gaps, what we have seldom – if ever – seen are pay gap figures from individual agencies.

That’s where this project comes in.

PRWeek – working with People Like Us and the One Percent – asked agencies to provide data on their own businesses for publication. We have compiled two rankings tables – one on gender, one on ethnicity – with a score out of 100 for each, based on pay gaps and representation in senior positions (see the tables for details of the criteria). We have then averaged these two numbers for each firm to compile a Top 10 table. Agencies were asked to provide average pay rates at five different levels of seniority. We have summarised these in brief write-ups.

Some findings are expressed as compound figures to avoid making pay rates of individuals identifiable (a concern for smaller agencies in particular).

Our aim is not to point the finger at individual firms, but to highlight where problems exist, give an opportunity for agencies to show what they are doing to address the issues, and explain the challenges involved.

Above all, this is about transparency; all the agencies featured here deserve credit for being among the first to stick their heads above the parapet.

Trends from the data must be seen in the context of the fact this is a self-selecting sample of relatively few agencies (and none of the top 20 from PRWeek’s UK Top 150 Consultancies). We expect the results to be ahead of a true industry normal.

With this in mind, there are ostensibly some positive signs for gender equality, with the average proportion of women in senior roles (62 per cent) only slightly below the average female workforce (64 per cent). Across the agencies, women are paid 94 per cent of the average salary.

Scale

But Anna Geffert, managing director of PR agency Hera and president of Women in PR, urges caution. “Before we crack open the bubbly and blow up those balloons, it’s important to scratch below the surface of these figures. With all of the top 20 agencies missing from this sample, it’s impossible for us to know whether this positive movement is truly reflective of what is happening on the ground, and the cynic in me would argue that if companies aren’t sharing their data, then it’s unlikely to be positive.

“We must know the scale of the problem before we can have a hope in tackling it, and for that we need agencies to participate and share their pay gap information.”

The lack of BME PR professionals in senior positions (10 per cent) is almost half the proportion of the average overall workforce (18 per cent). Non-white employees are paid 77 per cent of the mean average. This supports the idea that PR must focus more on the retention and promotion of non-white staff. The BME PR Pros Xec leadership scheme is among recent initiatives to address the lack of non-white professionals in senior roles.

Interestingly, the relatively few BME staff in the two most senior positions were on average paid more than the mean figure – highlighting the key problem of lack of non-white employees in top jobs.

“The ethnicity pay gap numbers are shocking, but it’s clear to see from the data that the issue isn’t just attracting diverse talent in the first place, but keeping it,” says Michael Levaggi, co-founder of OnePercent.

“The numbers are skewed because PRs from a non-white background aren’t staying in the industry long enough to take the most senior roles.”

Within two months of its founding a year ago, the PRCA’s Race and Ethnicity Equity Board Autumn (REEB) produced a guide on the ethnicity pay gap – “such was the urgent need within our industry”, says REEB chair Barbara Phillips.

“Discussing pay is still taboo, and only those of us ready to limit and even damage our career prospects will mention the existing pay disparities dependent on ethnicity. It’s a difficult conversation to broach, but that’s what leaders seem to want. If our industry genuinely favours inclusion and equity, the wholesale reluctance to reveal EPG data must stop.

“The only way to avoid increasing levels of brand damage is to pay black and Asian professionals the same as their white counterparts – unconditionally. And for that, we need to see everyone’s EPG data. We live in hope.”

Participation

We hope more PR agencies, especially larger consultancies, are encouraged to get involved when we repeat the project in 2022 (we hear from some of the global networks elsewhere in the project).

“Regardless of the scores in this table, the most important thing to note is who isn’t there,” adds Levaggi.

“The agencies in this list are the ones that are at least serious enough about equity and inclusion to share their data, even if it isn’t perfect. I think any person from a non-white background, looking at a career in PR, will question what the agencies that aren’t on this list are trying to hide.”

Some caveats: being in the table is not evidence that a particular agency is a ‘highpayer’ per se – or, indeed, of necessarily being a good employer generally (although several have been recognised as such, not least in the PRWeek Best Places to Work Awards).

A small number of agencies did not give data for every level of seniority or, in some cases, only provided figures relating to gender. Some consultancies, especially some of the smaller ones, stressed that the presence of one or two very senior white men among their employees has skewed the mean average pay gap figures.

There is more data we would like to collect; for example, pay gaps between professionals of different minority ethnic backgrounds – we recognise that broad terms such as ‘BME’ and ‘non-white’ don’t reflect the multitude of experiences. Looking at disability, class and geographical background may also be possible in the future.

We felt it was important to make a start on the project, and evolve it in the years ahead as, we hope, more agencies take part. Thanks to everyone who helped with this project.

Sheeraz Gulsher, freelance consultant and co-founder of People Like Us, and Levaggi deserve special credit for working with PRWeek to devise the formula and compile the tables. Thanks also to the REEB/PRCA and Women in PR for their advice and help publicising the scheme. And, of course, thanks to every agency that provided their figures.

As Gulsher puts it: “The pay gap survey represents a significant milestone in identifying and solving for the scale of inequity in our industry. The trailblazing organisations that have entered their data deserve to be celebrated.

“This is a start. A moment where we collectively take steps towards building a more inclusive industry where all can thrive, no matter their gender or ethnic background. When we look back over our careers and reflect on the impact we’ve made, let’s imagine that impact goes beyond the benefits it gives our clients; let’s work to make our industry better – better represented, kinder, inclusive and transparent.

* For clarity, by ‘pay gap’ here we mean the disparity between the mean average remuneration for all men in an agency versus the mean average remuneration for all women in the same firm.

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