Gender diversity in the contracting market

Contractors Employers
Ashley Sadler
Gender diversity at work

A prevailing discussion in recruitment is how to address the topic of gender diversity and with it, any pay gap between male and female colleagues doing the same job. In New Zealand, as with many other OECD nations, women are still paid less for doing the same job as men, with the national gender pay gap currently sitting at 12 percent. [1] A very high profile example of this gap was recently uncovered at the BBC, the British public service broadcaster, where the highest paid television presenter, Chris Evans, was paid four times more than the highest paid female presenter, Claudia Winkelman. There were seven other top earners above Winkelmann, all male. These figures embarrassed the BBC, who subsequently declared that by 2020 they want all their lead and presenting roles to be equally divided between men and women.  If you’ve been following entertainment news, you might recently have seen another similar example in Australia. A leading breakfast TV personality, Lisa Wilkinson, turned down the 2018 contract offer made by her network, after it was reported that she was offered considerably less than her male co-host.  She soon after took up a role with a competing network.

While these examples take place in the world of entertainment, they did give me pause to wonder about the possibility of inequality closer to home. As someone who believes we should be striving for pay parity, I was interested to see whether there was any evidence of pay gap issues in our own employment market.

I lead Madison’s Interim & Executive team, where we focus on sourcing and engaging experienced contractors for our clients. We have a comprehensive register of interim talent and I decided to conduct some high level research into gender diversity by looking at our contractors, the nature of their recent placements and pay rates (keeping all personal and identifying details confidential of course). The common consensus and prediction amongst my team, all experienced recruiters,  was that the very nature of contracting would mean that there would not be a pay gap. We work to the clients’ budget and find the very best person – regardless of gender-  available within this budget. Working in this manner should ensure that there cannot be a difference. So what did it look like in reality?

We analysed a random selection of 132 placed contractors; 84 were males (64%) and 48 were females (36%). The Interim & Executive team recruit across multiple disciplines, including Executive Management, Project Management, Project Coordination, Business Analysis and the more technical disciplines: Software Development, Software Testing, Application Support, and Data Analysis. Our sample included contractors in all of these areas.

Just looking at the average hourly rate, there did appear to be an immediate pay difference, with males being paid an average of $88.60/hr and females $81.25/hr. However, this did not tell the whole story. For Business Analysis roles, females out-earned the males by $81.25/hr to $76.61. In Project Management roles, there was virtual pay parity with $99.43/hr v $99.17/hr in favour of the men.  However there are two areas that caused the discrepancy in the averages.

Project Coordination is a female-dominated category. Nine out of 10 analysed contractors were women, and the average pay was $63.90/hr. The lowest paid was $55/hr and the highest paid was $75/hr. The one male Project Coordinator earned $70/hr.

In the management arena, we reviewed 35 contractors. 27 were men, earning on average $101.50/hr and 8 were women, earning $84.22/hr. It’s a sizeable difference, but is skewed by executive roles paying $150/hr and operational management roles at $60/hr.

The conclusion? 132 contractors with varying jobs and responsibilities is obviously a small sample and can produce anomalies, so I don’t want to be too precise here. I do believe that male or female, like for like, two candidates would be paid the same for the same role. I was interested however, to see the 2 to 1 ratio of men to women overall in our contracting roles, with the lower level project coordination roles filled by 90% women and in contrast, the higher managerial positions filled by 77% men. Was the reason for this simply because of the available talent on any given day, or is there an unconscious bias going on here either by us, or our clients? Do we tend to assume that women are better at organising and arranging so will be better at coordination roles, or because of descriptive stereotype bias, men are commonly seen as being competent, assertive, decisive, and so better suited to senior executive roles?  While I believe we work to avoid these kinds of biases, it’s important to ask the question.

After all it is only natural to be hugely biased. In fact, humans only consciously process a tiny amount of the information at our disposal but can make decisions based on someone’s looks, their height, their accent or indeed, their gender. Unconscious bias can come from stereotypes, personal attitude and pre-formed opinions. It happens automatically, and in any every day interactions people use it to make snap decisions. Common biases include the similarity bias, where we note if the person is similar to us, and therefore instantly relate to them. Then there is the selective bias, when we see what we want to see, but ignore what doesn’t fit. It is very common is to ask a question that confirms your own belief, looking for evidence that affirms your selection, rather than probing for something that doesn’t. This unconscious bias is often described as first impressions or gut feel.

As recruitment professionals, it’s essential to be aware that we all are vulnerable to subjectivity, and need to work towards being objective. The candidate selection process must always be fair, equitable and measured consistently, with shortlisted candidates being free of any bias. At Madison, we achieve this by having a structured recruitment process, a set of psychometric tests that can measure verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning (customised for leadership, sales and executive roles) and a suite of technical tests covering over 200 technologies. Every team member is trained to administer them and we have three resident Consultants to independently interpret the results.

Madison has over 100 staff around the country and we recruit in teams. Having a range of recruiters assessing applications is a practical way to reduce unconscious bias. Consultants are trained on anti-discrimination legislation and we have Best Practice accreditation. The structured approach gives us, and our clients, confidence that they are securing the services of the best qualified person available.

Having left the UK 20 years ago when Chris Evans was getting his first break on TV, I’m surprised that he has risen to be the highest paid person at the BBC. I wasn’t a big fan of Evans at the time, and I may indeed be biased against him, however it is hard to see any justification in the BBC pay gap. It’s good to see his employer seriously addressing the issue.

In New Zealand we continue to be progressive. After all, Jacinda Ardern has just been elected to the highest executive role in the country based purely on her abilities; she was able to galvanise a sinking Labour ship at the right moment, and had the political know-how to pull together disparate political allies. Regardless of your political affiliations, it seems evident that along with Prime Minister Ardern’s appointment, will come positive steps towards gender diversity and reducing the pay gap. I’ll be monitoring the stats going forward to see how the ratios and pay rates change over time.



[1] Sin, I., Stillman, S. & Fabling, R. (2017) ‘What Drives the Gender Wage Gap?’ from Motu,