Latest Weapon in War for Consulting Talent: Gender Pay Numbers

(Bloomberg) -- The global consulting firms PwC, EY and Deloitte jostle each year to hire thousands of young people coming out of college. In the U.K., PwC is getting a leg up on its rivals by becoming the first of the three to release its gender pay numbers -- almost a year ahead of a 2018 government reporting deadline -- and the largest private company to do so thus far.

“They are trying to minimize risk," said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist of job search site Glassdoor. By reporting early, PwC is “able to control the message,” he said.

PwC, which employs more than 19,000 people in the U.K., said Thursday that its women earn on average 13.7 percent less than men, and a whopping 37.5 percent less in bonuses. The gap is due largely to the fact that men dominate in senior roles, Laura Hinton, head of people at PwC, said in a statement, and is smaller than the 15 percent gap the company reported last year. "We are committed to creating an inclusive, fair and diverse business and tackling the underlying causes," she said.

Rival Deloitte hasn’t yet reported its figures to the government, but the firm said in 2016 that its gender pay gap stood at 16.8 percent, compared with 17.8 percent a year earlier. When looking at employees at similar job levels, the pay gap was 1.8 percent last year, wider than the 2015 number of 1.5 percent.

EY hasn’t reported any gender pay gap numbers in the U.K., but plans to publish them earlier than mandated, according to a company spokesman.

‘Employer Brand’

"The issue of having or not having a gender pay gap is an issue of employer brand," said Glassdoor’s Chamberlain. “It can have a big effect on how attractive a company is to prospective candidates, especially younger workers." In the U.S., 60 percent of employees surveyed by Glassdoor said they wouldn’t work for a company that had a disparity in the amounts it paid men and women, he said.

While all companies compete for talent, the big consultants are among the largest private-sector employers in the world, hiring thousands of graduates each year and battling to distinguish themselves from each other. In a ranking released this week by Universum, the firms came in fourth, fifth and sixth among the most-attractive employers among global college graduates -- with EY leading, followed by PwC and Deloitte. (Google, Goldman Sachs and Apple ranked first, second and third.)

"The students are looking for fair compensation, clear direction and transparency," said Jonna Sjovall, managing director for the Americas at Universum.

At PwC, the pay gap numbers expose how women are clustered at the bottom of the corporate ladder. Only 18 percent of partners are female. The company is trying to increase their numbers through so-called returnships for women coming back from an extended break, mentoring programs and by instituting targets for women in senior leadership. When adjusted for job level, the gender pay gap shrinks to 2.9 percent. PwC published its numbers because "we think it helps us to focus on what we need to do," said Jamie Harley, a company spokesman.