Mind the Pay Gap: The View from Starling

4th April 2018

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Over the past few months, you might have noticed that companies all over the UK have started talking a lot more about their gender pay gap. That’s because there’s been important new legislation passed demanding that employers with over 250 employees publish their pay gap statistics by April 2018.

Time’s finally up – and as you might expect, press reports have largely picked up on the somewhat sobering truth that women still generally earn less than men, regardless of industry. No major surprises there.

But far more interesting than the results themselves are the conversations they’re provoking about our entrenched attitudes towards women in the workplace. The disparity is disappointing, but it isn’t shocking – and it actually gives us an opportunity to examine not just the fact that the inequality exists – but why.

At Starling, we’re not yet legally required to reveal our numbers – but we’ve decided to anyway. As one of very few women in senior leadership within banking (and now one of very few female CEOs working in the male-dominated worlds of both finance and tech) I’m personally very invested in this subject – and because I’ve experienced firsthand the dispiriting and obstructive effects of inequality, I’m in the unique position of being able to examine it from the inside.

Being a woman in finance or tech is tough. We generally have to work twice as hard, for twice as long, to get half as far as men – and so it’s very important to me that Starling is as transparent as possible about how we currently stack up on issues like gender pay. Organisations should be forced to take accountability for the gendered prejudice that exists within their culture; it’s the only real way we can start to change our industry and leave a better legacy for a whole new generation of women to progress and prosper.

The gender pay gap isn’t equal pay

I think it’s important to highlight that the gender pay gap is not the same issue as equal pay. Paying a woman less for the same work as a man is thankfully now illegal, and something you’ll rarely come across nowadays. The issue here is really more about the type of jobs men go for – especially in tech and finance – and the fact that they’re generally a lot more financially rewarded than the jobs pursued by women – which results in that inarguable gap in pay.

A lot of Fintech companies argue that their pay gap exists because a high percentage of their workforce are tech and finance specialists – and that those jobs are just largely applied for (and then filled by) men. That’s about the measure of it – but the solution isn’t as simple as just ‘encouraging’ more women to enter these professions. Instead, we have to try and understand why women aren’t choosing to pursue them in the first place, and why they’re not selected for them when they do apply.

A major part of the problem is the deeply-entrenched ideas we have about the kind of jobs ‘men do’ and the kind of jobs that ‘women do’, which have been defined and shaped by years of invisible social conditioning. We’re now at the point where some people consider software engineering to be a traditionally ‘male’ pursuit, or talk openly about tech being ‘a man’s world’. And it’s not just men. I’ve heard plenty of woman talk about technology in this way too.

Starling team meeting

It wasn’t always this way. The early days of computing were far more balanced, with women famously forging new ground in computer science. When I first entered the workforce in 1981, armed with my Chemistry and Computer Science degree and determined to go into banking, nobody told me it wasn’t a job that girls did! But in recent years, there’s been a palpable shift.

There’s no real credible evidence to suggest that men have more of an innate aptitude for technology than women, and it clearly doesn’t require the type of basic physical capabilities that previously dictated the roles men and women could undertake – so why is it that we now see technology as something that’s only suited to men?

Personally, I think the answer lies in the systemic barriers that have evolved from how women and men are brought up; from what they’re taught to expect and how much they think it’s acceptable to demand, through to how much they’re expected to achieve. You’ll see it in the numbers of women who ask for a pay rise compared to men; you’ll see it in how many ask for promotions – and you’ll definitely see it in how many apply for roles in engineering and tech in general.

And like attracts like, after all. It can be hard – intimidating, even – to be one of very few women joining a heavily male-dominated environment, so it’s hardly surprising when fewer and fewer women eventually do. And so this cyclical and self-fulfilling prophecy is created in which women feel unwelcome in these roles – which of course results in far fewer women rising through the ranks to reach those sought-after and highly-paid senior positions. And repeat, ad infinitum.

The numbers

Percentage difference between men and women

2018

Mean Median
% difference 28.2% 33.3%

2017

Mean Median
% difference 25.8% 48.9%

Proportion of women in each pay quartile

2018

Female Male
Top quartile 16% 84%
Upper middle quartile 49% 51%
Lower middle quartile 40% 60%
Lower quartile 49% 51%

2017

Female Male
Top quartile 21% 79%
Upper middle quartile 17% 83%
Lower middle quartile 42% 58%
Lower quartile 42% 58%

Forging the future

At Starling, we pride ourselves on our culture of openness and transparency – so we’ve decided to be completely candid about how we measure up. We’re always upfront about our successes, our failures and our occasional mistakes – so we have to be 100% honest about where we stand on issues like this too. Ultimately, sitting on the fence isn’t a stance that sits well with who we are.

We’ll be the first to admit that our number isn’t perfect. It’s comparatively better when it’s lined up against others in our industry, but it’s still nowhere near where we want to be, in part because of the reasons I’ve explained here.

However, by choosing to make these numbers public, we’re trying to hold ourselves truly accountable and commit to understanding the root causes of the issue, while measuring our progress and taking real action to improve. We’re also taking tangible day-to-day steps like signing the Women in Finance Charter, building social campaigns like #MakeMoneyEqual and committing to various internal initiatives that champion the brilliant women who work for us.

We know that building a better future for women in Fintech won’t happen overnight – but we’re doing the work to get there. I really hope you’ll join us.

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