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UK's largest occupations driving gender pay gap

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Eight in 10 (83%) of the UK’s most popular jobs, including those in retail, care and admin, have a gender pay gap in favour of men.

Despite a survey showing that over half (57%) of UK employees believe no wage gap exists where they work, a CIPHR study of Office for National Statistics (ONS) data found that the reality is different.

A shocking 65 of the top 78 jobs have a pay gap, 17.6 million people (9.4 million women and 8.2 million men) have a pay gap in their workplace.


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Sales and retail assistants, care workers and home carers, and administrative/clerical assistants are the three biggest areas of employment in the UK. Gender pay gaps in these occupations are 5%, 1.7%, and 10.5% respectively.

As for the cause of the disparity, CIPHR director of people and services Claire Williams said so-called sticky floors and glass ceilings still pervade workplaces in the UK.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Sticky floors refer to social norms, gender stereotyping and discrimination – such as assumptions that women are less competent, or organisations failing to ensure women are given fair and equal opportunities and pay.

“Glass ceilings, on the other hand, often refer to the ‘motherhood penalty’ – where working mothers may need part-time roles or more flexible working arrangements to support their children and families, and find that the need for such roles limits their progression up the career ladder."

When this year's gender pay gap figures were reported to EHRC, many also expressed concern that they would be skewed by furlough, which also had a gendered impact on the workforce.

Williams added: “While gender pay gaps are slowly closing, more needs to be done by all organisations to play their part in leading equal pay for all.”

The fourth largest occupation in the UK is nursing, which is 86% female.

Despite the majority of women in the profession, men are paid 4% more on average.

This was particularly surprising, Williams said, as such public sector jobs tend to be more heavily regulated than the private sector.

She added: “It shows that there is still a lot to be done by employers to ensure that pay gaps are reduced more quickly.”

Of the most popular occupations in the UK, sales accounts and business development managers, were shown to have the largest pay gap in favour of men, an average of 12.5%. 

Women in these jobs on average earn 87p for every pound earned by a man.

Occupations with gender pay gaps in favour of women included midwives (-54.9%), barristers and judges (-34.2%), veterinary nurses (-33.1%), mechanical engineers (-26.7%), and special needs education teaching professionals (-25.5%).

The best occupations for gender pay parity in 2021 were hairdressers and barbers and health professionals, such as audiologists and occupational health advisers, which were shown to have no gender pay gap at all.

CIPHR's analysis based on ONS gender pay data released 26 October 2021.