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Gender pay gap at UK agencies widens as industry progress stalls

The gender pay gap in the UK worsened this year, growing by 0.5%

New data on the gender pay gap present at British companies has been released, shining fresh light on the scale of gender discrimination at businesses across the country.

The gender pay gap widened across the UK economy in 2020-21, reaching 11.1% (up from 10.6% last year) The Times reports. Ad agencies recorded a higher-than-average gender pay gap compared to the rest of the economy, at 17.8%.

The data shows the progress made by some firms in closing the gap – and exposes failures at others – and will be useful for informing future discussion of pay disparities in the UK.

Below, we have compiled a selection of the data published by the government, including major UK marketing agencies and media companies.

We’ve used the median pay gap in the tables, since it’s considered the most representative measure of disparity. For ease of comparison, we’ve only included firms which have reported data for 2020-21.

What does the data show?

  • Across the agencies which reported data for 2020-2021, the average median gender pay gap is 17.85%; this represents an increase of 0.56% compared to last year.

  • However, ad agencies have reduced the median gender pay gap 1.42% since 2017.

  • The companies with the highest median percentage difference between men and women’s pay are WPP 2005 (44.9%), OMD EMEA (27.3%), and Grey (26.5%).

  • WPP 2005’s pay gap has grown 12.5% since reporting began in 2017; this gap at the WPP parent company doesn’t reflect wider trends across the WPP group, which saw the pay gap narrow 0.1% over the last year.

  • A WPP spokesperson said: “WPP and its agencies are introducing new global, long-term strategic goals to increase inclusion and diversity of all kinds within the company, with a key aim to achieve greater gender balance at the top. To increase accountability and accelerate the pace of change, with effect from 2021 progress against these goals will be included in business performance reviews and within the incentive schemes of senior leadership across WPP.“

  • The agencies with the smallest gender pay gaps were PHD (0.1%), Mediacom Holdings (4.2%) and Hill & Knowlton (2.6%).

  • Wunderman Thompson has seen the biggest shift in its gender pay gap, narrowing the difference between men’s and women’s pay 23.3% since 2017; most of that change occurred in the last year, following J Walter Thompson’s merger with Wunderman.

  • Media companies again recorded smaller gender pay gaps than adland, with the largest pay gap Channel 4’s, at 23%.

  • The Economist and Newsquest, which owns Scottish daily The Herald, recorded the biggest shifts since 2017, 10.2% and 11.9% respectively.

Why is the data being released now?

  • British companies with more than 250 employees must release detailed statistics on the differences between men’s and women’s pay; data on the pay of other gender identities is not collected.

  • Advertising titan WPP has already released its gender pay gap data for 2020 and 2019, revealing a modest improvement across the group.

  • The data is released at the close of the financial year, each year. Due to the pandemic, last year’s pay gap reporting was suspended by the government to ease the pressure on hard-hit businesses.

  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which prosecutes companies which do not provide gender pay gap data in time, has granted firms a further reprieve of six months.

  • With many companies exercising the option to use an extended reporting period of six months, and the option not to report statistics for 2019-2020, this year’s sample is significantly smaller than previous reporting years.

  • The Drum will update this article with the final gender pay gap statistics after the passing of the extended deadline, October 31.


CompanyPay gap % (2020)Pay gap % (2019)Pay gap % (2018)Pay gap % (2017)Difference % since 2017
WPP 200544.938.13432.812.1
OMD EMEA Limited27.32820.8225.3
DDB UK25.8-2734.2-8.4
Ogilvy & Mather24.732.821.3240.7
Wunderman Thompson*21.438.638.344.7-23.3
Essence Global21.48.616.7*4.7
Hogarth Worldwide19.419.92022-2.6
Mindshare Media UK16.21.317.722.2-6
WPP Brands (UK)*12.814.716.314.6-1.8
OMD Group10.
Mediacom North10.211.614.915.7-5.5
Mediacom Holdings4.25.26.511.1-6.9
Hill & Knowlton2.68.9-2.4-3.96.5
PHD Media0.1411.32.5-2.4


CompanyPay gap % (2020)Pay gap % (2019)Pay gap % (2018)Pay gap % (2017)Difference % since 2017
Channel Four Television2324.223.324.2-1.2
Express Newspapers22.523.314.6193.5
ITV Services20.316.820.521.9-1.6
Verizon UK19.415.51314.15.3
Economist Newspaper Ltd19.329.529.229.5-10.2
Telegraph Media Group18.9-22.723.4-4.5
Financial Times Ltd15.918.418.419.4-3.5
STV Television14.611.918.517.3-2.7
Discovery Corporate Services13.
ITV Broadcasting9.59.712.610.7-1.2
BBC Studios Productions87.717.216.9-8.9
ITV Studios7.95.410.710.3-2.4
BBC Studios Distribution6.
ITV Breakfast-
Newsquest Media Group-4.921-827-11.9

Notes: Wunderman Thompson was formerly J Walter Thompson. While not an ad agency itself, WPP 2005 is the parent company of the WPP group. WPP Brands was formerly Y&R. Essence Global and Wavemaker were ineligible for data reporting in 2017, so their percentage difference was calculated using the earliest available data, from 2018. The hyphens for Telegraph Media and DDB in 2019 indicate that they chose not to report last year's data.