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A Few Hot Takes on UK Adland’s Gender Pay Gap

London, UK
JWT and WPP come bottom of the class, Golin and JCDecaux emerge triumphant – and the whole industry under performs as LBB’s Laura Swinton digs deep
Well, it's all happening this week, isn't it? Between the WPP investigation and JWT's decision to settle with Erin Johnson, it's been a week of drama. And there's more to come as the UK ad industry lays bare just how bad its gender pay gap is. 

The UK government has enacted legislation to force businesses of over 250 employees to reveal their gender pay gap statistics on a publicly searchable database. And yes, that includes a lot of companies in the ad and production business. The deadline was this morning so we have spent hours scouring the public register to find out how the ad industry is faring, so you don’t have to. It wasn’t the easiest task – the register is divided into rather odd categories that don’t make sense and see agencies and tech companies hidden amongst cleaning agencies, so before we get any further the following comes with the caveat that there may be a stray agency hiding in a weird category, but we think we've got them all. (Check out our compilation of stats here).

We included in our workings creative and media agencies, film studios, VFX and post facilities, market research companies, PR agencies, outdoor advertising companies, tech platforms Google and Facebook due to their substantial inhouse creative offerings and the consultancies Accenture and Deloitte due to their growing creative acquisitions. 

M&C Saatchi’s data has also been included in my calculations. Due to their structure they were not legally obliged to report their results to the government, but in order to be transparent they have opted to publish them on their own site.

And a quick recap: mean is the average, but subject to being skewed, while median is simply the central number in a data set and it’s a bit less open to being influenced by outliers.


So here’s the topline finding (scouring through the site so you don’t have to… you’re welcome), out of the 62 advertising or commercial production related companies we found on the site, 60 (or 96.8%) paid men more than women according to both mean and median hourly rates.

How does the ad and marketing industry rank compared to the national average? And would it surprise you if I said, ‘not terribly well’?

Across all the data reported the average mean difference in pay between men and women is 14.49% and the average median difference in pay is 11.98%. The ad industry companies we counted showed an average mean difference of 21.59% and an average median difference of 16.19%.

Heroes and Villains

Golin and JCDecaux were the only companies we found to pay their women employees more than their male employees on both mean and median rates. However market research firm Kantar was found to be paying women more in terms of the median hourly rate but not the mean. This would suggest that overall women at the company are paid well in comparison to male colleagues but that there’s either a few extremely poorly paid women or extremely well paid men skewing the average. Another near miss for Hill & Knowlton – while women’s mean hourly rate was 18.4% lower, their median rate was higher by 3.9%.

So, which companies have, euphemistically, got the most work to do? In terms of mean hourly rate of pay, WPP’s UK operation performed the poorest with women receiving 42.2% less than men on average. We suspect that there is some heavy skewing going on there thanks to their famously well-numerated (though currently under investigation) CEO – and women working at WPP HQ are paid a whopping 95.3% less in bonus pay.

In terms of median hourly rates, J. Walter Thompson London bottomed out with women receiving 44.7% less than men. The difference in mean pay wasn’t much better, with women being paid on average 38.8% less.

Other companies with notably large differences between women and men include DDB (mean difference 38.1%, median difference 34.2%), AMV BBDO (mean difference 32.3%, median difference 37.5%), AKQA (mean difference 32.6%, median difference 30.5%) and OMD EMEA (mean difference 35%, median 28%).

Special mention to Facebook – a teensy bit of welcome news, perhaps, given the Cambridge Analytica scandal currently unfurling. They were found to be paying women employees just 0.8% less than their male employees (though when you look at the median, they’re actually getting paid 9.9% less).

The gender pay gap reporting only covers companies of over 250 employees, which of course covers the big post and VFX companies. All of them employed fewer women than men at every pay quartile but when it came to the pay difference between male and female employees, Framestore came out with the smallest difference in median pay (a difference of 6.4%) and Technicolor emerged with the smallest difference in mean pay (a difference of 11.4%).

Too Blunt to Be Useful?

So that’s the numbers, but the data is something of a blunt instrument. Hoping to flex my university stats mad skillz, sadly, I found that there were a few metrics missing that could have helped understand these differences more clearly. For example I was always taught to accompany a mean or average with a ‘standard deviation’ – which basically would whether data points are clustered tightly or whether they’re fairly spread out.  With the raw data, you’d also be able to see the extent to which the average is being skewed by one or two extremes. Digging around the data just made me want more to go on.

On the other hand, the presence of the data has certainly shone light on the issue and forced bigger businesses to confront their problems around how they pay women. So maybe the data itself is secondary to that?

Trying Hard or Hardly Trying?

I’d also point out that some agencies and studios have posted a thoughtful report on the gender pay gap with detailed information about the initiatives they’ve got in place to remedy any inequalities. Others have posted a link to their home page. Not so helpful. Others haven’t attempted any form of reflection and have submitted nothing. If the UK government is going to expend any effort remedying noncompliance, they’re going to be chasing the companies that decided that submitting their numbers was beneath them. But if there’s any spare arse-kicking going, perhaps some can be deployed towards the companies that couldn’t be bothered to pull together a two page report?

The Freelance Question 

Another noticeable question mark is the number of fairly large agencies absent from the register. The growth of freelancers will allow certain companies with a large daily headcount but lower number of full-time employees to scoot under that all-important 250 benchmark. According to the guidelines, self-employed people or people with temporary contracts count as employees for the purposes, so anyone who has tried to wriggle out of reporting on this basis might find themselves in for a stern talking to from the authorities. One sneaky workaround is the fact that the data was recorded on the ‘snapshot date’ of April 5th… anyone really desperate to avoid having to report could have arranged for a freelancer moratorium on the snapshot date. But no one would be that devious… right? 

Identity Crisis

Outside of gender pay issues - and derailing massively - maybe one of the most curious aspects of the ad industry’s gender pay gap reporting wasn’t the consistent underpaying of women. After all that’s pure No Shit Sherlock territory

But here’s a thing beyond the pay politics of the exercise that struck me. And yes, it’s a bit off topic, but stay with me. If you want to navigate the UK government's Gender Pay Gap service to find the ad agencies you will have a tough time figuring out where the hell to locate them. There’s no advertising or marketing categories. Next best thing… ‘Information and Communication’? Right? Not right. No, that’s where you find Framestore, The Mill and MPC. The ad agencies are all doing their digital-business-transformative thang in ‘Professional Scientific and Technical Activity’. I’m assuming there was supposed to be a comma between the ‘professional’ and ‘scientific’. Weirdly, the one agency-ish company that was happy to put itself in ‘Information and Communication’ was Sapient. Like one of the most techy, digital, business transformation-y of the holding company properties. Go figure. And then there’s the agencies like Engine and platforms like Google that labelled themselves as an ‘Administrative and Support Service’, and were lumped in with cleaning agencies. I just found the whole situation rather indicative of how different companies view themselves.

The question is, what will the industry resolve first, it’s gender pay issue or its all consuming identity crisis? Let me know. I’m opening a book on it.

What Next?

The advertising, marketing and production communities love to hand-wring over diversity, but to see the difference laid bare in cold hard cash is quite something, isn’t it? However, we have seen several meaningful initiatives kick off within individual companies and across the industry in recent years. Here’s hoping that as they bed in and mature – and the old dudes at the top make room – things will change over coming years. And as the younger generation of amazing women make their way in the industry, I also hope that exercises like the Gender Pay Gap reporting will force their bosses to pay them properly.