Research from the The Open University, University of Nottingham, Western University and the High Pay Centre showed that around only half (48%) of large companies in the UK cut pay for executives during the height of the pandemic (between March and May 2020).
Of the 104 firms which cut executive pay, 78 either cut the base salary of directors or cancelled a scheduled pay rise, while 29 reduced or cancelled a bonus.
Managing pay cuts post Covid:
Zubaida Haque, executive director of social inequality charity The Equality Trust, said these practices highlight the disparity between executives and their employees.
She told HR magazine: "Companies who refused to cut CEO pay while employees faced the biggest squeeze on income with furlough and redundancy during the pandemic sent a clear message that the value and reward of executives will always be viewed as more important than workers.
"The Equality Trust’s research has shown high levels of public concern around the issue of soaring CEO pay and high levels of public support for government action to address excessive CEO pay and pay disparities more generally.
"Wide pay disparities perpetuate the 'them vs us' culture which in-turn increases public concern about disparities in pay and fairness of reward in society at large.”
Companies with a higher proportion of female executives were more likely to make cuts to executive pay.
The most common action for cutting executive pay was a 25% to 40% reduction in base salary.
Firms that took this action had an average of 3.5 female directors on the board, whereas firms that took no action over pay cuts had less than 2.5 female directors on their board.
High Pay Centre Director Luke Hildyard argued that cuts to executive pay are good business practice.
He told HR magazine: "Willingness to cut executive pay during the pandemic is potentially a good indicator of socially responsible business decision making more generally.
"The research suggests that this could be more commonplace at companies with diverse perspectives and life experiences in the boardroom, and with a higher degree of institutional ownership."