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How can we close the gender pay gap?

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The APM Salary and Market Trends Survey 2018 highlights that although males and females working in project management earn similar amounts between the ages of 18 and 34, men’s salaries overtake women’s from age 35. This pay gap persists right to age 55 and beyond. So what can employers do to close the gap by ensuring more women reach the higher-paid, senior roles?

Understanding why the pay gap widens as men and women begin to climb the career ladder is key, according to Teri Okoro, founder of design and programme management consultancy TOCA and former chair of APM’s Women in Project Management (WiPM) SIG. She believes a lack of transparency around progression is women’s greatest challenge in developing their careers and that tackling this could help reduce gender pay disparity.

The reasons go beyond the fact that more women than men take time off when they have children, emphasises Teri.

During an APM WiPM SIG webinar Teri hosted last month for International Women’s Day (IWD), a poll of the 100+ participants revealed lack of transparency around progression as women’s greatest challenge in developing their careers.

“Unconscious bias flourishes when the rules of the games are not explicit,” continued Teri. “Some organisations have reviewed their processes, resulting in more positive outcomes. Others still have to update theirs and build in the inclusion nudges that alter behaviours and prevent managers promoting in their own image.”

Julianne Miles is Managing Director of Women Returners, which helps bring skilled and experienced professionals who have taken a career break back into the workplace at a level commensurate with their skills and experience. She agrees organisations need to do more to offer clear, alternative career pathways.

“We know from research that if qualified women step out of their careers, the impact on their salaries when they come back into the workforce is -4% for every year they’ve been away,” says Julianne. 

“Often organisations aren’t structured in a way that enables people to ramp up their careers at a time that suits them. That’s why we’re not seeing the pay gap correct itself later on.

“Organisations need to recognise that external factors in people’s lives can mean they need to make alternative choices in their career, often for a relatively short period of time. People bring valuable new skills and experience back into the corporate workforce after a break – maybe they’ve been working freelance from home, running their own business, and of course developing caring skills that give them a whole new perspective.”

With reports such as the Future of Project Management forecasting that women will make up two thirds of the net growth in higher-skilled jobs until 2025, organisations need to take future-proofing action now to attract, develop and retain female talent.

And could women do more to help themselves? Teri offers this advice: “Women should not be reticent about promoting their successes in terms of ‘I’ rather than ‘we’, nor stepping forward for new roles even when they don’t tick all the boxes.”

The 2018 APM Salary and Market Trends survey will launch later this month. 


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  1. Nicola Read
    Nicola Read 06 April 2018, 11:52 AM

    I completely agree with this article, particularly the part about unconscious bias. Women shouldn't have to behave like men to achieve the same goals and salaries but end up having to modify their personalities to have a harder edge in order to be taken seriously. I didn't want kids and never took time out and I've frequently spoken with male colleagues doing the same job as me that earned more. It's still true that women have to work harder for the same recognition. I'm pleased that change is on the horizon.