Is pharma addressing the gender pay gap?

woman stepping over a gap: how is pharma addressing the gender pay gap

Reporting on the gender pay gap is now a requirement for companies of a certain size. How is pharma addressing the gender pay gap issue?

In 2017, it became mandatory for employers with 250 or more employees to publish and report specific figures about any gender pay gap – the difference between the average earnings of men and women, expressed relative to men’s earnings – that exists within their company.

A company which reports a positive pay gap means that, on average, its male employees are paid more than its female ones.

If a company reports a negative pay gap, it means that on average its female employees are paid more than its male ones.

When looking at a cross section of UK pharma companies, all of them report pay gaps lower than the latest UK national average

of 18.4%. However, as many companies point out, there is still much work to be done and the pharmaceutical industry is introducing a number of initiatives to improve the situation for female employees.

How is pharma faring? Pf looked at a selection of gender pay gap reports from five companies to find out.


In 2017, GSK UK reported its first gender pay gap figure as +2.8%. The pay gap shrank to +2.15% in 20181, which remains significantly below the national mean average of UK national average pay gap of 18.4%2. GSK says that it has increased the proportion of women in senior roles in the UK since 2017, which was ‘the most important contributory factor behind this improvement’.1


Roche UK’s current Gender Pay Gap (2018 snapshot) has reduced slightly, compared with the 2017 snapshot. In 2017, the company’s median gender pay gap was 5.96%, which reduced to 2.70% in 20183. In the same year, the mean gender pay gap was 10.30%, which reduced to 8.14% in 2018. Roche UK says that although 67% of all its employees in the UK are women, more women than men work part-time and therefore they are not represented to the same proportions in the highest and lowest job bands.


AstraZeneca’s 2018 report reveals a mean hourly pay gap of 14.3%, and a median hourly pay gap of 13.2%. Subsidiary Medimmune UK has a mean hourly pay gap of 9.5%, and a median pay gap of 9.8%4. In the report, CEO Pascal Soriot said of the figures: ‘While this is significantly lower than the Office of National Statistics UK average of 18.4%, we have more to do. This gap arises because there are currently fewer women in senior and leadership roles… Since 2012, the number of women in senior and leadership roles has risen from some 39% to over 44% at the end of 2017, but we will not stop here.’


MSD UK’s 2019 report shows a reduction in its gender pay gap.

Over the last year MSD’s mean gap fell from 6.9% to 2.6%, while its median also closed from -3.6% to –2.5%5. The report concluded: ‘We are happy with the progress being made, but continue to recognise the need to keep a close eye on data so that we can react quickly to any changes. We remain focused not just on positive change for women, but equality for all.’


According to Pfizer UK’s 2018 report, the company’s mean gender pay gap is 14.9% and the median pay gap is 14.5%6. The report said: ‘There are many factors which cause the gender pay gap, from cultural stereotypes about men and women, to how businesses are structured. Our gender pay gap is driven by the fact that, across our business, a higher proportion of male colleagues occupy more senior positions than female colleagues. Gender pay gap oversight is now a standing quarterly item for UK Board meetings.’


How does the pharma industry compare when it comes to women occupying senior roles?

For the fourth year running, the definitive ‘Women Count’ report 2019* has found that there has been no progress on gender diversity in senior roles in the FTSE 350. Funded by the UK gender diversity business, The Pipeline, this research tracks the number of women in executive positions and on Executive Committees.

The report found that in 2019, pharma companies in the FTSE 350 had:

26% representation of women on their Executive Committees ▲ up from 9% in 2018

4% representation of women in P&L roles on their Executive Committees ▼ down from 8% in 2018

6% representation of women as Executive Directors on their Boards ▼ down from 10% in 2018.

This points to women taking on functional roles on Executive Committees, not profit and loss (P&L) roles or Executive Director roles, which are key positions to forthcoming chief executives and possible future chairs of PLCs.



How does pharma compare to other industries?

Only 3.7% of FTSE 350  companies have female CEOs ▼  down from 4.6% two years ago

More than 85%  of companies have  no women executives  on their  main boards

Only 9% of executive directors on main boards are women ▬ unchanged  since 2017

17%  of FTSE 350 executive committee members are women ▲ an increase of just 0.8% since 2018

1 in 5 companies has  no female members on their executive committees at all

At the current rate of progress it will take until about 2090 before executive committees achieve gender balance.

Lorna Fitzsimons, Co-founder of the Pipeline, said:

“Businesses severely limit the talent they attract and retain as well as their bottom line when they exclude women. It’s time for the Government and fund managers to force change.”



2 April 2017, Office for National Statistics data