Opinion: Our gender pay gap was a shock. Here's what we can do about it.

A view of Marie Stopes International’s Central London clinic. Photo by: MSI

Editor’s note: Under regulations introduced last year, all U.K.-based organizations with more than 250 employees must publicly report their gender pay gap annually. When Devex analyzed the data, we found that every major aid-focused nonprofit had a pay gap in favor of men — with the widest gap at Marie Stopes International. Here, MSI walks through its own data to unpick what’s behind it.

If you found yourself wondering how a women’s health and rights organization like Marie Stopes International could possibly have reported a mean gender pay gap of 44.7% in favor of men, you weren’t alone.

As an organization that has worked for more than four decades to create opportunities for women and girls across the world, how can our mission be compatible with a gender pay gap that, at first glance, seems to be in direct opposition to it? We were as surprised as anyone. When we first calculated our figures in early 2018, our initial thought was that there was some error in the statistics; that we’d got our maths wrong.

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We looked around at an organization with women’s empowerment at its heart and strong female representation at every level, including on our board and executive team, and we wondered if we were missing something. But by looking deeper into the data and seeking to understand it, we formed a much clearer picture of the factors behind the figure, and just why that surprising gap exists.

The first point to note is, if you were looking at Marie Stopes International purely through an NGO lens, the mean gap would be much smaller. Our global support office, which includes our executive team and senior leadership and provides the strategic, technical and support functions for our international development work, last month reported one of the smallest mean gender pay gaps in the international development sector, at just 4.8% [Devex collated the mean gender pay gap figures for 16 major aid-focused nonprofits and found the lowest overall to be Sightsavers at 4.9%].

In the last year, we have strengthened the mechanisms we have in place to ensure fair remuneration, including adjustments to our salary review process, and a new annual review of every team, department and job type to ensure no inconsistencies exist. We have also launched a Gender Working Group of team members to ensure that everything we do is considered through a gender lens.

“This is the direct result of the structural under-representation of women in the most specialized roles in abortion care.”

As a result, we have already made good headway in reducing the gap in our global support office — down from 7.7% the previous year — and we remain committed to eliminating it altogether. With a continued focus on the issue, we believe we can get there, and quickly. But it’s only one piece of the gender pay puzzle.

Marie Stopes International is not purely assessed as an NGO. Our figures also encompass Marie Stopes U.K., our network of clinics across England which provide national health-funded and private health care services to more than 70,000 people each year. As a single registered entity, we are required to combine the gender pay data for our global support office with that of our U.K. clinics. And that’s where our challenge lies.

A significant pay gap exists across our U.K. clinic network; a noticeable gulf between a large workforce of almost entirely female nurses and midwives, and a smaller pool of predominantly male surgeons who command much, much higher hourly rates. This is the direct result of the structural under-representation of women in the most specialized roles in abortion care, which in turn is the single biggest driver of our combined gender pay gap in favor of men [about 11% of registered nurses and midwives in the U.K. are male, but about 88% of consultant surgeons]. If we could resolve just that one issue, we would bring our combined figure much closer to the sector average, possibly even below it.

So how do we get there?

Marie Stopes U.K. has already put in place a program of work to address the gender pay gap in its U.K. clinics, which includes creating opportunities for a new generation of female surgeons and anaesthetists to progress further in their careers and to become specialists in abortion care. We know change is not going to come overnight, but we are committed to doing everything we can to make that change happen.

We also know we can’t do it on our own. Longer-term thinking is required, not just from ourselves but from a range of healthcare organizations across the U.K., from medical schools and National Health Service bodies to the Royal Colleges and the U.K. Department of Health. On our side, we’re up for taking on the challenge.

Just 12 months on from the introduction of the new reporting requirement, we have already seen a slight reduction in our combined gender pay gap, and we hope to bring it down further still next year.

For organizations with a strong social mission, the suggestion that we are doing anything at odds with that mission is an uncomfortable space to be in — but it’s vital that we challenge ourselves and look deeper into the data. It’s only by understanding the specific factors driving their figures that organizations can take steps to address them and create lasting change.

The metrics chosen by the government for reporting the gender pay gap are far from perfect, but they have opened up a necessary conversation about women that we have been part of for more than 40 years. And that is a very good thing.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Kerry Crowther

    Kerry Crowther is vice president, global human resources and people and development, at Marie Stopes International. She joined the organization in March 2018, with over 20 years’ experience in HR management. Kerry is responsible for the development and execution of MSI’s global people strategy, encompassing organizational design, recruitment, policies and processes, engagement, training and development, salaries and benefits, and safeguarding.