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Gender Pay Equality in Recruitment

By July 7, 20112 Comments

And so, surprise surprise, the Chief Executive of the Employers & Manufacturer’s Association (Northern), Alasdair Thompson, was finally sacked by his board this week after a radio interview in which he attributed the gender pay gap to women’s monthly period pains and childcare requirements.  For those of you living under a rock the past two weeks (hey, the story went global dontchaknow?), you can listen to the full interview on Mike Hosking’s Breakfast Show here.

It’s enough to make you cringe and squirm into your rush-hour gridlocked car seat.  Admitting the existence of a gender pay gap he said you only need to look at who takes the most sick days.  Answering his own question, you could just hear the thought process going through his mind:

“Women do…”

{Oh bugger, might have opened a can of worms there…I’d better soften that statement}

“…in general.”

{Hmmm has that helped?  Helen Kelly is staring at me intently but seems to be relishing what I’m saying.  Oh dear, better explain myself}


{Right Alasdair, this better be good.  Helen is looking smug now, and Mike’s fidgeting with excitement}

“Because once a month they have…”

{Brief pause.  Gulp.  How to phrase it.  Can’t go back now as they know what you’re getting at.  Periods?  No, too punchy.  Menstrual cycles?  No, too liberal, too PC, can’t be seen to back down from this now.  Come on Alasdair, just say it.}

“…sick problems.”

{Oh bugger, did I really just say that on radio?  Better try and soften it a bit more.}

“Not all women…”

{Hmmm, this doesn’t seem to be helping and Helen looks like all her birthdays have just come at once.  Pull out the valiant child-care card, the essential role of women in society in tending to our frail and sickly infants}

“but some do they have children they have to take time off to go home and take leave of,”


By this time Alasdair had taken leave of his senses entirely.  No doubt the blood was pounding in his ears as it started to dawn on him how the comments might be received, so what did he do?  Resolutely stand by his comments, refuse to back down, go off on sick leave of his own (oh, the irony), and eventually shuffle back to work, a man condemned by public backlash and media lynch mobs, to place his head on the chopping block board table and vaguely listen to the soft swish of the axe cutting through the air above his head.


There are many out there vehemently supporting his comments, or at least his right to express them.  I for one don’t like to see people hounded from their jobs for expressing controversial views (not that I would ever express controversial views myself ;)).  But there really was no surprise when his sacking was finally announced.  His ill-considered views were compounded over and over again by his refusal to modify his stance or back down.  Television filming of subsequent interviews were set up to frame him, but he showed surprising naivety in succumbing to their tactics.  You know, the lowered camera angle so he came across as a big, looming, threatening man.  The meek-voiced female reporter, asking leading questions until he lost his cool, timidly retreating as he advanced across the room.


Anyway, all of this carry on got me pondering about pay in the recruitment sector.  We have heard all about pay inequality in the Education, Manufacturing, Military and various other sectors.  So what about Recruitment?  One of the (many) criticisms often levelled at the agency world of recruitment is that the system of paying low base salaries and highly incentivising with commissions to be earned from fees billed, has created a culture of hardcore salespeople to the detriment of quality of delivery.  This is generally nonsense.  There are many high quality recruiters who are attracted to earning good money and high commissions, they are just wired that way, but realise that to achieve this in the long-run then their service and delivery has to be of the highest quality.  What else would compel a recruitment agent to conduct overseas reference checks on a candidate late on a Friday night when all their friends are out socialising?  Certainly not a simple pat on the back from the boss.  It is the commissions that drive dedication to the job at hand, and the willingness to secure a positive outcome for all parties.


So in theory recruitment should be one industry that harbours true gender pay equality.  When your annual package is largely made up of commission payments then the size of your pay is directly related to your performance, to the amount of fees you have billed, and your gender becomes irrelevant.  But are we really whiter than white when it comes to the gender pay gap?


I did some quick calculations this morning  which looked into the base salaries offered to all of my placed candidates since 2007, which have been in roles ranging from Candidate Management, through Recruitment Consultants and up to National Managers.  Here are the average base salaries offered to my candidates based on gender:


Male     $67,260

Female     $64,150


This was from a sample which was 41% Male and 59% Female.  Interesting result or are you not surprised?  Certainly, our recruitment industry offers equal opportunities for earning commission based on performance, but perhaps there is room, even in our industry, for a greater deal of gender equality in base salaries.


Jonathan Rice

Director of New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice & Co, co-founder of freelance recruiter platform JOYN, and people-centric technology firm superHUMAN Software. Recruitment innovator, agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Guest says:

    I like the inclusion of the Recruitment industry and how the comments are relevant.  I’m keen to know more information on the different pay sclaes for the industry.  I’ve not seen any difference in terms of salaries offered to fully fledged consultants, however I am not aware of many Males in roles such as candidate managers or admin roles within recruitment companies, so would like to know if these roles are included? 

    Considering admin roles often become candidate managers and candidate managers often become consultants perhaps there is more discrimination in these roles as entry into the recruitment sector? Just a thought…

  • Stewart Farr says:

    Perchance did you happen to compare your results against those roles that actually have higher average pay. People often comment to me about how engineering and IT have higher pay average…….yet hardly many women are in these arenas……..