While it has never really quietened, the conversation around gender pay differences was brought again into the fore in the UK last year.

It was the BBC’s disclosure of staff that earn more than £150,000 which sparked industry-wide debate around the significant gender and race imbalances among senior positions within the media organisation, and in turn, this was arguably the cause of the government’s introduction of the gender pay gap (GPG) – a law introduced for UK employers with 250 or more employees requiring companies to report gender pay variations in the public domain.

As defined by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the median GPG is the difference between men and women’s hourly earnings based on a percentage of men’s earnings. Under these criteria, very few industries emerged in a positive light, and the digital marketing industry is by no mean exempt.

Within our broader industry, the average pay gap for marketing and sales director positions is reportedly at 12%, while the average pay gap for marketing associate professionals is 17.4%; the average gap in the UK as a whole 9.7%.

Looking more specifically at the performance and affiliate marketing industry, however, the picture is not as clear. That’s because only a comparative handful of companies have the 250-strong headcount making survey participation compulsory. As such, PerformanceIN has settled for a partial view based on just larger but participatory players.

The agency monoliths

It’s no surprise that we turned our attention to the media behemoths that are WPP, Dentsu Aegis and Publicis Groupe, and the companies beneath them.

Owner of performance marketing agencies FusePump, GroupM and Ogilvy & Mather Group – WPP reported a mean gender pay gap of 25.5%, significantly above the UK average. MediaCom, also owned by WPP, reported a reasonably better gap of 13.8% while Mindshare reported a median gap of 19.1% – 0.7% below the UK average.

The Dentsu Aegis Network, owner of network agencies Carat, iProspect and Merkle reported a solid gap of 14.1%, while advertising agency DigitasLBi (owned by Publicis Groupe) reported a median GDP of 22.6%. Havas UK group reported an average median gap of 15%, significantly lower than last year’s gap of 36%; according to the company, however, the wider gap was from the departure of male employees who had either not been replaced or had been replaced by female staff.

Just one affiliate network was large enough in the UK to participate; Awin. With the company currently holding a total of 318 employees of whom 172 are male and 146 female, the network reported a gender pay gap of 23%.

It’s not within the salaries of staff where an imbalance can show, however, with details on bonus payments revealing some stark findings.

Males in the higher ranks?

From this perspective and in contrast to many other agencies, MediaCom reported an 86% mean gap in favour of men, while Havas UK group reported a mean gap of 37%, but according to Anjulie Truong, managing partner of Connected Path, this may be more implicit of males dominating the senior ranks, where bonus payments are more prominent.

This is backed by a recent feature on The Drum, identifying that salaries among c-level management level (CEO, COO, etc) were almost identical across genders, with the average annual yearly salary for women at £98,862 compared £99,703 for men. Down at senior management level, however, the gap widened to 10% in favour of males salaries.

While the data doesn’t reveal the full picture around distinct differences between the pay of men and women, says Truong, what can be implied is that there are fewer women in executive roles and c-level roles; “the question this raises for me is, how do we address that? Amounts matter far less than upholding the principles of equality which continues to be something all businesses need to be encouraged to focus on,” says Truong.

Beyond salary terms, this is an issue that Acceleration Partners’ managing director has been vocal on, most recently publishing an article on gender inequality highlighting that among some of the top companies in the performance marketing industry with a 50% female team, just 20% held executive roles.

“It’s when you start to look at director levels and above that, the gap starts to widen and appear,” says Southgate.

While accepting that it’s “not an easy challenge” to gain a view of the gender imbalance in terms of both salary, position, and overall numbers, as a result of numerous other factors – including maternity and paternity policies – playing a part, both Truong and Southgate agreed that companies publicly publishing their data report is bringing the spotlight more on the wider topic.

“I consider digital marketing to be an inclusive and fair opportunity sector without gender bias,” concludes Truong, “whilst equal pay is a legal requirement, it’s positive that the Gender Pay Gap data published is bringing a larger focus to the overall topic.”

“I think this initiative is good; identifying a problem is the first step into trying to make things better.” concluded Southgate.