Decoding the gender pay gap in VFX


The subject of the ratio of women to men in the workplace has been very prominent in the news agenda in the last 12 months.

Whilst companies within the UK Screen Alliance membership are a long way from the epicentre of the most shocking allegations of harassment and bullying in the film & TV industry, that’s no excuse for us to be complacent. UK Screen therefore had no hesitation in endorsing the recently published BFI/BAFTA set of principles and we encourage all our member companies to adopt them.

Running in parallel to the #MeToo/Times Up campaign has been the debate about men and women’s pay. Gender Pay Inequality, where individual cases of men and women are being paid different rates for the same job, with equal experience and equal responsibility, is discriminatory and illegal, however many people are confusing this with the Gender Pay Gap, which is a statistical measure for a whole company. Over the next few weeks, the UK’s largest companies, including several VFX companies, will be required to publish for the first time their Gender Pay Gap. If we fail to understand the difference between the Gender Pay Inequality and the Gender Pay Gap, some important insights will be missed along with an opportunity to narrow the gap.

If a company has a Gender Pay Gap, it does not automatically imply that it has widespread gender pay inequality, although it doesn’t rule it out either. The Gender Pay Gap is defined as the difference between the average of all the men’s salaries in the company, and the average of all the women’s salaries. It is normally shown as percentage of the average men’s salary.  Both averages must include the pay of all the employees in the company from the most junior runner to the most senior executive. It is calculated on hourly rates of pay and therefore properly adjusts for any part-time working.

It is possible for a company to have pay equality within each level of seniority in its workforce, yet still have a noticeable Gender Pay Gap. If there are fewer women in senior roles than men, the average women’s salary across the company will be lower than the men’s average and that will generate a Gender Pay Gap, despite men and women being paid the same for equivalent roles.

It’s almost certain that VFX companies will have a Gender Pay Gap, although that should not be taken as evidence of widespread gender pay inequality. In 2017 UK Screen Alliance surveyed 13 leading VFX companies and found that the workforce consisted of 26.8% women and 73.2% men. We also found that in senior creative roles, the imbalance of the numbers of men and women is even wider, although there is a more even representation in senior managerial and leadership roles.

When a company publishes its Gender Pay Gap, it is also required to publish an analysis of the proportion of men to women in each quartile of its payroll.  The 1st quartile being the lowest paid 25% and the 4th quartile being the highest paid 25%. For VFX companies, we are expecting to see that men outnumber women by four to one in the upper quartile and this will be the major cause of their Gender Pay Gap, rather than any widespread pay inequality.

It would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that this imbalance in numbers solely arises because women are leaving the industry, as that premise ignores the fact that fewer women were joining the VFX industry 10 to 15 years ago and that is reflected in the proportion holding senior positions now. The relatively higher proportion of women in junior roles is testimony to the success of encouraging more of them in recent years to choose VFX as their career, despite the fact that fewer girls are studying computer science at school; a disturbing trend that needs to be reversed.

The VFX Gender Pay Gap will narrow by itself, as today’s intake of female skilled talent rise through the ranks, but employers are aiming to be more pro-active than that by removing as many barriers as possible to the swift progression of women in the workforce. VFX companies have introduced good maternity pay packages and are embracing flexible working arrangements, designed to get new mothers back into work at the earliest opportunity. We are also seeing the emergence of “returnships” to get women who take extended childcare breaks back up-to-speed with rapidly changing work practices. It will always be challenging to balance work and family, when the major film VFX clients are an 8-hour time difference away, but our industry is recognising the need to accelerate the promotion of women to more senior, more highly paid roles, as only by doing so will it make a quick and significant impact on its Gender Pay Gap.

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