The gender pay gap has been an issue of much public discussion in the last year. The latest figures show that the overall national average for the pay gap between male and female full-time employees stands at 9.1%. However, the aviation sector is one which has seen particularly negative results.

With new rules regarding pay gap reporting in place and the April 2018 reporting deadline looming, this issue will not be going away – rather, it is likely to become more prominent as more results are published. For example, EasyJet’s announcement of its figures in late November generated a number of headlines, many of which summarised the results as ‘EasyJet admits 45% pay gap between women and men’.

What are the new regulations on gender pay gap reporting?

The new rules require the following details to be published by companies with more than 250 employees based in the UK:

(i) The gender pay gap percentage – by both mean and median average hourly pay;
(ii) The mean difference between bonuses over the 12 month period;
(iii) The proportion of men and women who received a bonus in the 12 month period;
(iv) The number of men and women in 4 pay bands (4 equal pay bands depending on pay of all employees); and
(v) A written statement signed by a senior individual confirming that the information is accurate.

Explanatory narratives are optional but recommended, and it will be interesting to see if companies decide to provide justifications for their data. These narratives have so far been used variously to set objectives for change, as well as to explain certain facets of individual reports.

The aviation situation

The aviation industry is one which is frequently in the public eye, due to the consumer-facing nature of its services. As air travel becomes ever more routine, observers feel more personally affected by the sector. This means the issue of the gender pay gap, and how it is being addressed, is one which should be of concern to aviation companies, as media attention and reputational damage are real possibilities.

Unlike other sectors, such as shipping, aviation does not have a history of exclusively or predominantly male workforces – indeed, this is part of the problem. Rather, the issue is that both genders are present, but are typically in specific roles that have particular levels of pay.

For example, while there are more than twice as many female cabin crew members than male, just 86 of EasyJet’s 1493 pilots are female, according to the figures provided by the company and the Financial Times. Just under 90% of those in the top pay quartile are male, while just under 70% of those in the lowest pay quartile are female. These differences have a substantial effect on the gaps reported, given that the pilot salary is almost five times that of a cabin crew member.

Changes and opportunities

While it is difficult to extrapolate from one report – as we note that at the time of writing no other airlines had submitted their report to the UK Government Equalities Office – what the situation in aviation generally might be, it is reasonable to suppose that the gender spread across EasyJet’s roles will be reflected to some extent across other airlines.

In recognition of the effect that the difference in salary between the male-heavy pilot bracket and other employees is having on their statistics, EasyJet are moving to close the pay gap with their Amy Johnson Initiative, which aims to recruit increasing numbers of female pilots annually with a goal of 20% of its new pilots being female by 2020. Targeting pilots in this way will be one of the more efficient ways to improve the pay gap statistics, and might be something for others to consider if similar gaps are identified in other companies.

However, given how long it takes to train pilots and the very particular skills required (and that even hitting a 20% target still means that 80% will be male), gains might be made more quickly in other parts of the business in the meantime. For example, just under 62% of management and administrative staff at EasyJet are male, so that might be an area in which a more even gender split could be achieved in a relatively short period of time for them and for other companies reporting similar gaps. Active involvement with programmes like the International Civil Aviation Organisation Air Transport Gender Equality Programme or the ‘Think, Act, Report’ drive might also assist with the culture changes necessary to motivate progress at all levels of employment, as they work to further narrow the gap.

For companies as much in the public eye as airlines, the new gender pay gap reporting requirements might therefore represent a significant opportunity to demonstrate progress and will to change, despite the risk of negative headlines.