Women are more expensive than men to employ. Or are they…?

By Carolyne Wahlen, Managing Director of GAP HR


Carolyne Wahlen is the founder and Managing Director of GAP HR, a successful outsourcing human resources company, established in 2003, for business owners across the UK. Carolyne is a well-respected speaker and author of all things HR and there are many business owners across the country who have had very stressful issues magically disappear because they’ve teamed up with Carolyne and her team of HR experts. The following post is a fascinating insight that hits home on the common myth that women are more expensive than men to employ.

It’s an accepted “fact” of business life – women are more expensive to employ than men.
But is it true?

Few people like to go on the record about it – largely through fear of getting a knock on the door from politically correct vigilantes, waiting at any opportunity to strike them down for voicing their opinion!

There can be three main points that people think about when considering the cost of women vs men:

  1. “Women have more time off than men”

  2. “Maternity pay costs a fortune”

  3. “I have to find someone to replace them while they’re away”

Employers and employment bodies have traditionally been shy of undertaking any kind of meaningful study into the costs of women in the workplace.

Despite this, there appears to be a real fear that employing women can cost a business dearly.


A survey of HR professionals by Croner Consulting suggests that some four fifths of employers instinctively think twice about employing women of ‘childbearing age’ – which is basically all women nowadays, as the current UK oldest new mother is 66! That means the assumption that women are more expensive to employ could be affecting 10.9 million women throughout the UK. Even removing the subjective from the discussion, leaving out the whys and the wherefores, answering the simple question ‘are women more expensive to employ than men?’ takes diplomacy to entirely new levels.

So how does the expense theory stand up to scrutiny? Here are some of the most common assumptions (and the truth behind them).


“Women have more time off than men”

Perhaps a little surprisingly, they do.

According to government figures, in 2018 women lost 2.5% of their working hours to sickness or an injury, whereas the figure for men was only 1.6%.

If you assume 254 working days a year, then women would be off for 6.35 days a year, men 4.06 days.

Estimated cost if you pay sick days (based on UK median salary of £31,460): £547.32 per year for women

Estimated cost if you pay SSP only (based on UK median salary of £31,460): £41.04 per year for women (as first 3 days are unpaid; if these are not continuous days, then you may not pay anything at all for sickness absence).

“Maternity Pay costs a fortune”

Statutory Maternity Pay is 90 per cent of average weekly pay for the first 6 weeks (£544.50 per week based on UK median salary of £31,460) and then £156.66 per week (2022) for another 33 weeks, paid by the employer – a grand total of £8436.78 per pregnancy.


However, most businesses can claim 92 per cent of maternity pay back, and smaller businesses can claim back 103 per cent. £6266.40 * 1.03 = £6454.39 SMP

Estimated cost: £1982.39.

“I have to find someone to replace them while they’re away”

Well, not necessarily.

Most sensible business owners would try to cope by redistributing work throughout the business. However, it’s true that the smaller you are, the more difficult this tends to be. An agency will charge you a finder’s fee of about 15 per cent of a candidate’s salary. Of course, you could do all the legwork yourself, but it’ll probably cost you about the same by the time you’ve added everything up.

Estimated cost £4,719. Work that out over a 40-year career (assuming two pregnancies and 6.35 days sick every year on SSP) and that’s an extra cost of around £15,445. £386 per year.

Or £32 per month.


Maybe I’ve missed something out – and if I have, I’m sure you’ll let me know – but that doesn’t sound like a lot to me.

Then, once you’ve factored in the fact that the average woman gets paid 17.3% less than the average man (so £26,017 based on the median salary), and you could even be forgiven for concluding women are less expensive than men!


For any HR and employment law queries, please reach out to Carolyne at GAP HR: