LONDON — This week, as the final hours ticked down to the deadline for British companies to report their gender pay gap data or face a fine, a flurry of last-minute filings revealed a stark and unflattering trend: Fashion and beauty brands, predominantly focused on female consumers and audiences, and often employing an overwhelmingly female staff, are among the worst offenders in the country when it comes to paying men more than women.
The explanation, according to several companies? A coterie of men in a handful of top-tier executive roles, while the majority of entry-level, retail, design and distribution center jobs are held by women, creating a gendered, pyramid employment structure reflected across sectors in the fashion industry.
Take Condé Nast Publications Limited, publisher of magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Glamour and GQ. The company reported data on Tuesday that revealed it to have the largest mean gender pay gap favoring men among all British media publishers and broadcasters, despite having more women than men at every pay quartile.
The company reported a mean gender pay gap of 36.9 percent (in other words, when comparing mean hourly rates, women earn 63 pence, or 83 cents, for every 1 pound, or $1.40, that men earn) and a median gap of 23 percent (when comparing median hourly rates, women earn 77 pence, or $1.08, for every £1, or $1.40, that men earn).
In a statement published alongside the data, Condé Nast attributed its salary skew to its longstanding and male-dominated senior leadership team. The chairman of Condé Nast Britain, Nicholas Coleridge, for example, has held various roles across the executive team since 1991. Jonathan Newhouse has led Condé Nast International for over 30 years. The statement said that across three-quarters of its business, the company had not found evidence of an appreciable gender pay gap. Three-quarters of all Condé Nast employees are female, with the bottom two salary quartiles particularly dominated by women.
The disparity of wages that exist within most fashion businesses was further underscored by the figures produced by many brands and retailers. The middle market women’s wear brand Karen Millen pays women 49 percent less than men on a median hourly basis, meaning that, companywide, men’s median pay was double that of women. Women made up 84 percent of the company’s top positions, with a female C.E.O. and C.F.O., and the same proportion of men and women received bonuses, yet women’s median bonus pay was 96 percent lower than men’s.
In a statement, the company said that this was because the majority of its retail assistants and distribution center staff were women, and that the small percentage of male employees worked mostly in its head office.
“Our gender gap paints a misleading picture about our commitment to gender diversity and equality,” the statement read, adding that when head office roles were excluded, the gender pay gap dropped to 6 percent. It did not, however, address why so many head office roles were filled by men instead of women.
Other high-profile names included Victoria’s Secret, with a median hourly rate gap of 19 percent, and Benefit Cosmetics, which revealed a 30.7 percent median hourly rate gap, although women made up more than 90 percent of each pay quartile at the company. At Burberry, where women make up 70 percent of the luxury fashion group’s employees, there is a 26 percent gender pay gap in favor of men, who get higher bonuses too. None of the companies in this article wished to provide further comment beyond the statements released with their data.
“While we continue to take steps to ensure employees at all levels are able to fulfill their potential and further their careers at Burberry, and are recognized for their contribution, we know we can do more,” said the Burberry chief executive, Marco Gobbetti, when the company released its data last month. “This report shows that we have a gender pay gap in the U.K. The gap is influenced by the fact that we have fewer women in senior positions, however we are committed to narrowing this gap as we work to develop more women leaders to drive the growth and success of our business.”
More than 2,500 companies, equivalent to one in four, submitted their gender pay gap figures in the 48 hours before midnight on Wednesday. Last year, the government ordered all British companies with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap reports by midnight on April 4.
The hope, it said, was to shame companies into doing more to close the divide. On the final day of results, findings indicated that 78 percent of companies showed a pay gap in favor of men, 14 percent had a gap favoring women and 8 percent had no gender pay gap. The government calculated that Britain’s overall pay gap is 18.1 percent.
Prime Minister Theresa May called the gender pay gap a “burning injustice,” and added that the whole of society would remain “poorer” if outdated employment practices went unchallenged.
The effort in Britain is one of a growing number of initiatives among countries to promote equal pay. Australia recently mandated gender pay gap reporting for most companies, while in Germany a new law will require businesses with more than 500 employees to reveal their pay gaps. The fashion industry, riding high on selling female empowerment via T-shirt slogans and social media hashtags, is starting to look like the employer equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes.