Share scheme gender inequality doubles

Men are four times more likely to be part of a company share scheme than women

The gender disparity in access to share schemes has doubled since last year, analysis by share scheme and equity management platform Vestd has found.

In 2023, men were twice as likely than women to have access to a company share scheme, the analysis of data from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) showed.

This has doubled over the past 12 months and men are now four times as likely to receive access to a company share scheme benefit than women.

Duncan Brown, independent reward adviser and researcher, suggested this was due to the existing gender pay gap in the UK.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “The more you earn the more likely you are to be in such an executive share incentive plan, and the more shares you get within them. 

“Any gain in the share price when you cash shares in multiplies the original gap in pay which influences their award.

“Even in all-employee share plans, as women earn less on average and are more likely to be low paid and in part-time work, they are not able to save as much in these plans, if at all, or buy as many shares or receive as many of any gifted shares than men.”

A February report by the CIPD showed that nearly a fifth (17%) of organisations with more than 250 employees have not reported their gender pay gap, despite it being a legal requirement.

Read more: 17% of large firms don’t report their gender pay gap, CIPD reveals

Greg Guilford, director of HR consulting at WorkNest, noted that HR could address inequality across an organisation, to improve uptake of company share schemes.

Speaking to HR magazine, he offered the following advice: “Implement robust initiatives to support women in advancing to higher-paying roles and leadership positions, where share schemes are typically more prevalent.

“Craft policies specifically designed to reduce gender disparities, and promote equity across all compensation and benefit programmes.”

Charles Cotton, senior policy adviser for the CIPD, told HR magazine that HR should review why women might be less attracted to share schemes at their organisation.

He said: “HR teams need to review why women might be less likely to take advantage of the share plan. They can do this through staff surveys, forums and workshops, as well as asking for feedback from line managers and employee representatives.

“It might be because of the way that the scheme is being ‘sold’ to employees, putting off female workers, in which case the language used may have to be reviewed. 

“Or it could be that female workers are less able to afford to buy shares, in which case the organisation should look at how the costs of share ownership can be made more affordable.”

Read more: Dividends soar as wages stagnate

Alison Ross, chief people and operations director at the Auto Trader Group, said that inclusive share schemes could improve engagement and retention.

She told HR magazine: “Creating an inclusive and accessible share scheme was really important to us, which is why we set up a bespoke all-inclusive share award, where we give employees a percentage of their salary in shares each year on top of their salary.

“From a business perspective, we hope that sharing our success helps retention and gets employees more invested in our strategy. But beyond that, we hope that people feel really excited to be even more of a part of Auto Trader. 

“The reward element is very important but it’s also about treating everybody the same. It’s not about having a hierarchy, but making sure that everybody shares in our success.”

Global dividend payouts to shareholders rose 14 times faster than worker pay since 2020, analysis from Oxfam showed (2 May).

Ross added that HR should educate employees to ensure they understand the benefits of the scheme.

She continued: “Education is another vital aspect to make share schemes more accessible and National Share Scheme Day (today) is a great opportunity to make sure that colleagues understand the scheme. 

“It can be a complex concept to understand, so it has been important for us to do as much education as possible so that people understand the process and benefits of the scheme.”