19 July, 2018

The Gender Pay Gap in British lingerie - why, and what are companies going to do about it?

This is a follow-up post to my previous post "The Gender Pay Gap - how do large British lingerie companies compare? ".

Now that we know that these companies do have gender wage gaps, let's see what they had to say about them. All of the companies gave some explanation, and most of them stated how they planned to fix it. But will these plans have any effect? Are they ambitious enough? How will we know as consumers if these plans are working and to what extent?

Let's dive into it, company by company, as I paraphrase all of the reports (publicly available on the Gender Pay Gap Service). Warning: this post is super long so if you just want an overview, scroll to the end. I will probably end up publishing an abridged ranking at some point in the future if this is just too many words to read (understandable).

Department Stores  



Mean gap: 19.9%, Median gap: 0.3%

"There is a negligible gap between male and female pay and this is significantly lower than the 2017 ONS median pay gap for the UK economy (18.4%) and the retail industry (9.2%). Our analysis of the mean gender pay gap and mean and median bonus gap shows that they are largely driven by a higher number of men in senior and higher-paid roles within the business.
We are confident that men and women at Debenhams are paid equally for doing equivalent jobs across our business and have an equal opportunity to participate in and earn incentives. Our current recruitment, progression, performance, reward and benefit policies and practices are not gender biased. We will continue to monitor to ensure they remain fair and equitable."

Debenhams clearly don't intend to take any steps to fix their problem. They say that they currently do not discriminate against women in their company but they fail to give evidence towards this - clearly this has been an issue historically, given Debenhams' age and how the senior roles in the company are dominated by men, so how are we supposed to know if these practices have changed? Overall, this report is a bit crappy.

House of Fraser:

Mean gap: 18.0%, Median gap: 1%

"There are two key issues affecting our gender pay gap. Firstly, we have a higher proportion of women in part time roles and secondly there are more men in senior roles. Where colleagues at the middle of the pay scale are compared, the gap is minimal, at 1%, but when you take the whole business into account, the gap is 18%. Our median rate is significantly better than the reported Retail and UK rate and our mean rate is in line with the UK rate.
At House of Fraser, we recognise the benefits of a truly diverse workforce and are committed to  reducing our gender pay gap. 
Since 5 April 2017, we have made significant improvements to our family-friendly and reward policies, work which will continue."

These policies are named "family friendly policies", "reward and recognition", "apprenticeships", "talent pipeline for women in senior roles", "diversity and inclusion, "collaborating with others to trial new solutions"

I am very glad that, despite a relatively small median gap, they have still made a commitment to reducing it. The policies are named and described (but not really given extents or budgets, so it's hard to know how far they'll go).  There are no specific timings/goals for reducing the gap so that makes it sound a bit less concrete. The policies sound helpful: having read through the summaries I believe that the family friendly policies, the talent pipeline, and diversity training are all likely to have the greatest positive effect.

John Lewis:

Mean gap: 13.9%, Median gap: 7.8%

"There are more women than men in our lower paid roles, but fewer in higher paid ones - this is the chief reason for our gender pay gap. Making a gender comparison across our supermarket assistants and selling assistants - almost 53,000 of our Partners - our gender pay gap is 1.4%. If each gender was represented equally by job level our mean gap would be more than halved, showing our biggest opportunity is through encouraging and promoting female talent.
We already mentioned the danger of ‘chasing numbers’ and if our priority was purely to reduce our gender pay gap figures, we could, for example, place our focus on increasing the male representation within our most junior population. This would have a big impact on our headline figures, but it would not help achieve our aim to remove barriers to progression and offer equal opportunities for all, regardless of gender. One of the areas we will focus on is why a smaller proportion of our junior female workforce progress to senior levels. We want to work with Partners to help us understand the reasons and explore solutions. We will put our Gender Equality Network at the centre of this debate."

John Lewis has 8 commitments to "unlocking better progression and greater inclusion for all partners", named "giving everyone access to new career opportunities and help with interviews, strengthening access to coached and mentors, building internal networks, promoting our policies to support progression, developing our attitudes to flexible working, raising awareness and helping partners learn, encouraging our partners to lead through bring yourself to work week, senior leaders supporting national campaigns"

I am happy that there was an attempt at further analysis of the statistics, and a clear plan for what they believe is the best way of closing the gap as fast as they can (which is a bit debatable because there is almost certainly immediate gender discrimination to be fixed as well with a gap like that). The report mentioned not wanting to "chase numbers" which I find promising as it shows at least a desire to fix the underlying problem. The commitments are good, but no budget has been set and no strict timings or specific goals have been stated.  

Marks and Spencer:

Mean gap: 12.3%, Median gap: 3.3%

"Our overall workforce across stores, distribution and offices – including full time and part time employees - is almost three quarters female. The diagram [not shown here] represents a simplified view of our organisational “shape” – showing proportions of men and women at each reward level.  
This shape is a key factor in our Gender Pay Gap, as we have a high proportion of females in entry level roles – where flexible working is more prevalent and we see more women than men wishing to work part-time. We also have a higher proportion of men in senior positions. Both these factors significantly influence the mean and median Gender Pay Gap, and are two key areas we are addressing.
Using a recognised formula to strip out the effect of having a high volume of women in lower reward levels results in a figure called the “non-demographic pay gap". Using this formula, and adjusting by grade, our mean pay gap reduces from 12.3% to 1.5%."

They have already made stretching commitments on the gender pay gap and diversity:

"By 2020, we’ll extend our UK pay gap monitoring and reporting to include ethnicity, disability and age (where known) and take action to close gaps where possible. We’ll aim to reduce the non-demographic gender pay gap within M&S in the UK by at least 10% by 2020 and by 25% by 2025 compared to 2017. By 2025, we want M&S workforces to reflect the diversity of each region in which we operate. We’ll report on progress from 2019. By 2022, we aim to have 50% female and at least 15% BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) representation on the M&S senior management team."

They are taking these new actions:

"Increasing diversity and inclusion content in training materials for all new starters"
"Weaving unconscious bias and inclusive leadership through our learning and development at all levels"
"Focusing on departments where gender balance is more challenging, such as IT and logistics"
"Extending support for people taking family leave through mentoring (do this through the Gender Equality Network or Parents Net)"
"Addressing the pipeline of women ready to move into senior roles"
"Encouraging an environment where everyone has the opportunity to work flexibly (not just women)"

I'm sorry, they plan to reduce the 1.5% adjusted gap by 25% in 7 years? To have a gap of 1.125%? Talk about overambition!

Aside from that, I am very happy that they even mentioned the "non-demographic" gap as it is illegal to pay women less for equal work and it's something they could potentially get in trouble for. So it was brave of the author(s) to write about this. I am also very happy that they have named and numbered targets, though their new actions could do with further description. I think that the training materials are a really good step that many other companies haven't mentioned. The flexible working goal not only helps women but also disabled people, but the onus is on the applicant to enquire about flexible working and I wonder if people will be discouraged from doing so, due to fear of discrimination.

M&S also took it upon themselves to mention goals for improving diversity with BAME and disabled people, which is a really positive step, as this isn't really being focused on at a government level at the moment. Their commitment to monitor the pay gap(s) in the future is also promising.


Clothing Retailers


Mean gap: 40.9%, Median gap: 32.8%

 "We are confident that men and women are paid equally for equivalent roles. However, the factors below provide context to the mean and median pay gap across male and female populations at ASOS.
1. Insourced versus outsourced functions
We insource customer care which is comprised of mainly entry-level roles and is 63% female. Our retail team also has a large number of entry-level roles and is 85% female. We outsource our distribution, which tends to have mainly entry-level roles, of which the majority are filled by men. This results in a gender imbalance at the entry pay level.
2. The gender balance in leadership roles
Although ASOS is 64% female overall, we have more men in our most senior roles with 73% of the leadership team being male.
3. Women in technology
Technology is a sector that has historically attracted more men, which is a challenge that needs to be addressed at school age, rather than just in the working world. We are committed to recruiting more women into tech roles as well as encouraging women to study STEM topics in schools and universities. This challenge is larger than any one company – with only 21% of the core STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) workforce in the UK being female – and will require fundamental shifts in the education system and support across all UK tech businesses. The ASOS tech team is currently 24% female.

Based on the key factors we have outlined as contributing to the gender pay gap at ASOS, we commit to:
1. Creating development and mentoring programmes to support career progression for women into leadership positions.
2. Enhancing our ‘Family Friendly’ policies, including parental leave and flexible working, to ensure that they are best in class.
3. Funding 10 scholarships per year to encourage more women to study STEM topics in universities and expand the work we are currently doing with schools and organisations like Stemettes and Girls Who Code.
And to ensure that meaningful action is taken, we will be investing a minimum of £1 million to support these efforts in the coming year. We understand that long term change will take time, and must involve action both inside and outside of ASOS. However, we believe this is a strong starting point and will help us work towards a business, and a leadership team, that is evenly balanced and more closely reflects our diverse customer base."

There is no evidence for the first statement given - and with mean and median gaps as high as they are I frankly don't believe it. However, after this, there is more detailed analysis of their gender wage gaps - I appreciate the information about outsourcing and the company structure. However, I feel that Asos are kind of passing the buck with the women in STEM thing. Their scholarship is great but getting women to study STEM is only part of the problem - the leaky pipeline also needs to be fixed.

Asos have created new commitments, with budgets, that aren't too vague, but unfortunately no timelines or goals in the pay gap itself have been supplied alongside these.

JD Williams:

Mean gap: 6.2%, Median gap: women earn 7.3% more than men

"[The gender pay gap] is not necessarily an indication of discrimination" - I just had to flag this up as that is a QUESTIONABLE COMMENT.
"We are proud that the results of our analysis place us in a strong position. Diversity and inclusivity influences our policies and culture at all levels and this is reflected is [sic] our balanced quartiles and pay gaps much lower than the national average. "

They also mentioned having more women than average in senior roles.

"We would like to build on our success in addressing diversity. We have already implemented our Women in Leadership programme which provides our top talent with access to executive leadership development. In addition, our "Women Like Us" campaign aims to provide role models and mentors to increase opportunities for women to progress. We are also developing a number of initiatives to further reduce the pay gap, including blind CV sifting, equal pay review analysis and addressing our flexible/agile working, maternity and paternity policies for all of our employees.
We will continue to monitor the representation of women within senior roles and plan progression so that we do not miss out on female talent."

Just adding more women to senior positions to reduce the mean pay gap helps very few people overall - if your median gap skews in favour of women but your mean gap skews in favour of men, clearly there are some major issues with respect to wage differences at different levels of seniority (more on this at the bottom).

Their campaigns and programmes seem to be in good faith, and blind CV sifting (while of questionable benefit as, often, you can still work out the gender of the applicant), is a concrete measure that they can stick to. Making a commitment to review and analyse pay levels is a good step, and I fully support strong maternity and paternity policies, though they have not made any commitment to reducing the gap itself by a certain amount in the near future.


Mean gap: 52.6%, Median gap: 42.0%
"Any gender pay gap that exists is a result of differentiating roles and not due to any variance in pay for like for like roles.
We are committed to reducing our gender pay gap and will continue to focus on women having the same opportunities for senior roles as men.
Going forward we will continue to support men and women to develop to the best of their potential."

This was honestly the whole report. It's shit. It's nothing. Clearly Yours aren't doing enough to reduce the pay gap, so why aren't they committing to do more? 

Yours Clothing? More like... Up Yours Clothing! (I apologise wholeheartedly for that pun)

Lingerie Stores


Ann Summers:

Mean gap: 23.3%, Median gap: 21.6%

"The introduction of the gender pay gap reporting, has enabled us to reflect over what our numbers really mean and encourage ongoing meaningful conversations around our inclusivity and equality as a business. However, after 37 years at the helm of Ann Summers, I believe there is still no other business comparable to us on the High Street and I know the amazing women we have in our business, just do not face the same barriers that the gender pay gap report was brought in to highlight. 
Therefore, whilst I am supportive of the public reporting of this information, I would like to see the  regulations and reporting improved in the future to allow businesses like ours to be fairly represented. We may be in the minority, but we believe we are the industry leader in gender equality and should have the opportunity to demonstrate this more effectively.
Why the figures don’t tell the whole story:
• Our customers need female store assistants to give bra fits
• Our legitimate female-bias structure unfairly skews the figures towards men
• 130 out of 131 stores are managed by women
• Of all colleagues promoted last year, 80% were women
• In our business, women head up traditional male roles such as; Finance, Property, Wholesale, Merchandising, E-commerce, Retail Operations & Logistics
• 65% of our Senior Leadership Team and 70% of our Board are women
• Our top 3 highest paid colleagues are women
As we look forward, I would like to see a broader focus on other changes that will make a difference. For me, that is not just about encouraging women into more ‘traditionally male’ roles but for true equality and diversity, encouraging men into equally ‘traditionally female’ roles. Furthermore, we should support more men in taking up their right to shared parental leave, to not only help change pre-conceived stereotyping, but to also allow more women to remain in the pipeline.The reality is, equality is no longer a female issue, it is an everyone issue!"

They say they already have these programmes: "Retail leadership, colleague development e-learning platform coaching, flexible working, maternity/paternity leave, dedicated team time, masterclasses."

To fix their pay gap they would have to "employ more men in their store, reduce the number of part time roles in their stores, or reduce the number of men at head office" which they say are all infeasible.

What about the solution of paying those senior roles less? Or paying the roles in the stores more?

Ann Summers talking about how they are so empowering to women seems dubious to me as the company has a sizeable multi-level-marketing sector, a model that often targets vulnerable women and encourages them to perform high pressure sales tactics on their friends and family, without a guaranteed profit or wage.

They also say they commit to continuing to "always hiring the best person for the job, regardless of gender, removing barriers to enable female talent to have a work/parenthood life balance including supporting fathers, and never assuming the job is done"

That last part is odd because they say they don't have a gender issue but there apparently is always more they can do... so which is it?

While I don't really believe from this report that Ann Summers wants to prioritise gender equality, some of their programmes sound helpful to women - the maternity and paternity leave, and flexible working ones in particular.

Boux Avenue:

Mean gap: 75.4%, Median gap: 75.7%

"• Due to the intimate nature of our products we predominantly attract female colleagues to our stores and head office which has a direct impact on our statistics
• The part time working patterns within the stores our particularly appealing to female colleagues and these roles are paid on an hourly basis, whereas the small proportion of male employees are in salaried roles.
Through our Group’s established Management Training & Development Programmes we are dedicated to creating meaningful career paths for everyone in our stores, warehouse and head office functions. For the year to April 2017, 54% of those participating in these management programmes were female"

OK, so let me get this straight, you believe that the value that women provide to your company is worth a quarter of the compensation of the value men provide?  Why are you not trying to change your SEVENTY FIVE PERCENT GAP? Honestly Boux Avenue can fuck right off.


Mean gap: 41.1%, Median gap:  6.2%
 "Bravissimo is a company that is predominantly run by women. 95% of our employees are women, our CEO is a woman, six of our eight leadership team members are women, and the vast majority of our management roles are filled by women. Given that we are a women- led company, the gender pay gap numbers above might seem surprising. The reason for the large gap is that in many of our roles, employees are required to work directly with our customers, fitting them in bras and swimwear. The law allows employers to specify gender for this type of role for reasons of privacy and decency, and because of this, these roles in Bravissimo are only done by women. 77% of our job roles fall into this category and are ‘women only’, with the other 23% able to be done by either men or women. There are roles requiring bra fitting at all pay levels of the business, but the greatest number of these roles are at the lower pay levels. The roles that men are eligible to do are also at all pay levels of the business, but there are fewer roles in the lower pay levels. The significant gender pay gap in the overall results is not because we employ fewer women in management and leadership roles, it is because we don’t employ men to do bra fitting."

And to this I ask - why is the work that men ARE eligible to do worth 40% more to your company than the work women are eligible to do if bra fitting is so paramount to your operations?

A lot of explaining away their pay gap, and a complete lack of acknowledgement that there is a problem. I'm incredibly disappointed.

Victoria's Secret:

Mean gap: 15.1%, Median gap: 19.4%

"While we are consistent in how we pay men and women for the same role, gender distribution across roles varies. As the leading specialty retailer of women's lingerie, Victoria's Secret attracts significantly more female than male applicants to our lower paying, non-management associate roles...
At L Brands, we focus on recruiting, retaining and advancing diverse talent for an organisation that reflects the customers we serve and the communities where we live and work."

Oh good, another nothing report. To be honest I didn't really expect much from Victoria's Secret. 


Mean gap: 40.3%, Median gap: 35.6%

"The figures above highlight that the gender pay gap within Wacoal Europe is structural and is strongly influenced by the fact that Wacoal has a high representation of female employees in the lower quartiles while at the same time having a higher representation of males in senior leadership roles. Currently 5 out of 7 board members are male and the average length of service is just under 9 years.
We will continue;
1) To match the skills of the job to the right candidate with no bias or discrimination
2) To support a long length of service and create an environment where people enjoy coming to work.
3) To listen to our people and continuously develop our working practices to help and support our workforce
4) To invest in people through clear learning and development programme"

Why are Wacoal continuing do to things if there is zero evidence that it's helping at all? Their commitments are vague and basically count for nothing, and I find it questionable that they apparently match the job to the bets candidates but still have mostly men on the board of a women's lingerie company. Boo.


While I personally believe the main issue is not unequal pay for equal work (though it would be naive to think that doesn't exist, because it demonstrably does), but large wage inequality when comparing senior to junior roles, and a historical (and in some cases continuing) glass ceiling effect.

None of the reports talked about the wages of those in senior roles, which I suppose is very unsurprising. I personally fully support wage caps in businesses, either as flat caps or (my preference) as multiplication caps - the highest paid person can only be paid x times the lowest paid person).

Something that companies themselves cannot change is a culture whereby women spend much more time caring for others and thus feel less able to work full-time. Encouraging flexible working patterns to suit women does help in the short term, but we need a huge cultural shift to truly achieve equality in this area.

So, what do you think? Am I right to be this riled up about some of these reports?
Should Bravissimo and Boux Avenue floor workers rise up and seize the means of bra fitting?

27 June, 2018

The Gender Pay Gap - how do large British lingerie companies compare?

What is the gender pay gap?

"The gender pay gap is the difference in the average hourly wage of all men and women across a workforce. If women do more of the less well paid jobs within an organisation than men, the gender pay gap is usually bigger. The gender pay gap is not the same as unequal pay which is paying men and women differently for performing the same (or similar) work. Unequal pay has been unlawful since 1970" - Gender Pay Gap Service

Due to recent legislation, all employers with 250 or more employees must calculate and publish (among other things), their mean and median gender pay gaps. This has recently come into effect with April 2018 being the first time private companies have been forced to publish this data. I have taken the opportunity to go through the reports of lingerie companies and compare them by category so you can find out what these gender pay gaps are, how they compare across companies, and what each individual company has to say about it. That's too much to fit in one blog post so welcome to a short series!

If you cannot view the images below the data can be found in this spreadsheet.

Disclaimer: I am not a statistician, economist, or business expert. I am but a simple lingerie blogger with a dream of gender equality.

What are mean and median? Why do they differ?

Means and medians are both ways of calculating averages. The mean is typically what people refer to when they talk about an average, and is calculated by adding up all of the wages and dividing this by the number of employees. The median is essentially the "middle" value. You can calculate this by arranging all the salaries in order, then picking the one right in the middle.

The thing about the mean is that it's easily influenced by outliers. If your company has five employees and you pay four of them £10/hour, but you pay the fifth £100/hour, the mean wage is £28/hour, despite this not really reflecting how most of the employees are paid. The median in this case would be £10/hour, which is more reflective of what's happening (but ignores just how much the fifth person is paid).

The Wage Gap in Department Stores/Big Retailers (that sell lingerie along with various non-clothing items):

Wage Gap in Big Retailers chart


1. Marks and Spencer
2. John Lewis
3. House of Fraser
4. Debenhams

1. Debenhams
2. House of Fraser
3. Marks and Spencer
4. John Lewis

The Wage Gap in Major Clothing Retailers

Wage Gap in Clothing Stores chart


1. JD Williams
2. Asos
3. Yours Clothing

1. JD Williams
2. Asos
3. Yours Clothing

The Wage Gap in Lingerie Companies

Wage gap in lingerie companies chart


1. Victoria's Secret
2. Ann Summers
3. Wacoal Group (owns Freya and Elomi, among others)
4. Bravissimo
5. Boux Avenue

1. Bravissimo
2. Victoria's Secret
3. Ann Summers
4.Wacoal Group
5. Boux Avenue
When does each company stop paying women?

I stole this idea from this guardian article and I copied the dates from there, though of course the dates can be easily calculated manually.

Dates when women stop being paid
If you cannot view this diagram, please visit the guardian article linked above.

What Next?

Along with these figures, most companies published a report explaining the reasons for them and what they intend to do about their relative wage gaps. In the coming days, I will summarise and analyse these reports to the best of my ability and produce an overall ranking of which companies I believe are taking the best steps towards gender equality.

11 March, 2018

Rib Cages and Bra Fitting - a Masterpost

I've realised that while there are titbits (pun intended) of information about how rib Cages can affect bra fit floating around, it's never been collated into one easy to access article. So I've tried to do that: most of the information in this post is credited to other hardworking bloggers, please check out the credits at the end to support their work! Also big thanks to my sister for the lovely diagrams.

1. Rib Cage Shapes (horizontally)

There are two basic types of rib cross-sections to consider in relation to bra fitting, disregarding the sternum (we'll get onto the breastbone later):

Diagram showing a top down view of flat ribs and barrel shaped ribs
Flat vs Barrel Shaped Ribs

  •  Flat ribs (left) - the most common rib cage shape
  •  Barrel shaped ribs (right) - more rounded than the average rib cage shape

Most bras are designed to fit best on flat ribs.

02 January, 2018

The Outwards Scoop

We all know that it's important to scoop all tissue from the outside of the bra *into* the cups, as well as positioning the wires correctly, but recently I have been thinking about an extension of the manoeuvre:

The Outwards Scoop

You may be thinking that this is just a way to make a too small cup look like it fits correctly, but I promise you it's more than that. What is the purpose of the scoop and swoop? To make sure that all tissue that was outside the wires is now inside the wires - of course, provided that the bra isn't too narrow overall.

For those with soft tissue (and particuarly those with pendulous breasts and loose skin as well), or just a very projected shape simply scooping the traditional way can force tissue into the gore space *past* the root of your breast. This causes tissue to sit under the gore, either pushing it away or having the gore sit on breast tissue - not ideal!

27 November, 2017

Bra Shopping in Melbourne - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

A quick lowdown of three places to buy bras in Melbourne - if you're one of the two thirds of people who don't fit in the sizes most bra shops sell, or you just want somewhere to give you a good fitting, this is the post to read. Apologies for the lack of photos of the fittings, my phone was broken.


The Good - Brava


Brava exterior
Brava's exterior

03 September, 2017

Comfortably Stylish - A Short Review of Urkye Koalicja Serca+Granat in 34OO/OOO

I have real difficulty finding clothes that fit me due to my bust/waist sizes, so I often look at bust friendly brands as a potential solution. Unfortunately, my personal style is brightly coloured/patterned, interesting clothes and most of these brands deal in basiscs so I always leave the websites empty handed and disappointed. My perspective is: I can buy a T shirt from H&M for £3.99, I'm not concerned much about the fit. What I can't do is buy a nice dress or an interestingly designed shirt that actually sits well on me.

Urkye doesn't seem to me to be much different from other full bust brands, both in size range (it only goes up to a 44 waist size, which I believe corresponds to a UK 16, so no plus size range here) and in design. However, one dress stood out to me, and I decided to give it a try.

Success! A dress that fits me well and I enjoy wearing! The dress didn't take too long to arrive (in the UK), either, considering it came from Poland. For reference, I usually wear a 6/8 in waist sizes but have to size up multiple times to get a good fit in the bust (I usually don't though because I end up with badly fitting shoulders).

18 July, 2017

Why I love FUNderwear (and how to get hold of it in extended sizes)

Lots of people use lingerie as a way of expressing their sexuality. And that's great - power to them. This post is not negatively framing those people's choices in any way, but about my alternative perspective.

Three pairs of underpants, two with Disney designs on them, one with a dinosaur print, laid out on a bed.
Apologies for the poor photo, my phone is broken so I had to make do with an old camera.

Ever since I went through puberty I have been told that my body, and other womens' bodies, are
inherently sexual, just because they exist in the "female" subcategory. A man can make jokes about nudity, his genitals, even masturbation and they are generally well received because the context of these remarks is humorous. If a woman tries the same thing, the reception is never quite the same because people will always colour her comments with sexuality. Of course, the level of this will depend on the woman's race, age, gender expression, size, whether they're disabled or not, trans status, and multiple other things. But it never goes away entirely.