Salaries have increased in line with inflation, and while the gender pay gap persists, it is at its lowest-ever level

The latest Pay and Reward Survey from the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has been published, recording the working environment of over 6000 chemists. The survey finds that the median salary of RSC members continues to increase in line with inflation, though salaries still lag behind the heights seen 10–15 years ago. The gender pay gap persists, but is at its smallest since gender data started being recorded in 1980.

The median salary for chemists is £45,000, indicating that salaries have increased roughly in line with UK inflation since the last survey was performed in 2017 (73% of the people who answered the survey are based in the UK). Compartmentalising the data by self-reported career stage reveals that early-career members earn a median salary of £33,200, compared with £44,800 for mid-career members and £57,000 for established career members. For comparison, the report notes that average annual household expenditure in the UK in 2018 was approximately £29,800.

Since 2017, no significant decreases in salary have been seen in any reported sectors. The sectors with the biggest increases are industrial and commercial companies (up 6% to £50,000); government (up 12.5% to £45,000); and schools and further education institutions (up 10% to £38,500). In the latter case, the increase comes after teachers received an up to 3.5% pay rise in 2018, following years of public-sector pay freezes and below-inflationary pay rises imposed by the UK government. The median salary of members working in pharmaceuticals shows a particularly dramatic increase since 2017: up 13.2% to £58,900. This is likely to reflect an increased investment in research and development collaborations across the industry in 2018.

The median salaries associated with different job types suggests many careers have seen relatively gentle salary fluctuations since 2015 (when adjusted for inflation). However, sales and marketing and consultancy are seeing consistent decreases in salary. The apparently significant fluctuations in median salary in other sectors (such as computer systems) are likely to be an artefact of small sample sizes.

Looking at how salary medians have changed since 2000 shows that, adjusted for inflation, members were generally best off before 2010, with many age groups earning their highest salaries in 2000. Throughout this time, members with doctorates have maintained larger median salaries than those who highest qualification is a first degree (defined as a BA, BSci, MSci or MChem or equivalent), with the difference increasing with age.

Gender differences

A greater percentage of respondents indicated they are satisfied with their salary and benefits than 2017, though women continue to be less satisfied than men. Gender differences in the perception of fairness in the workplace remain almost unchanged since 2017, with men still more likely than women to report that all employees experience equal opportunities in their workplace. Women are also less likely than men to agree that their working environment is diverse and inclusive, or to agree that their job makes full use of their skills.

Different opinions also persist over the effect that career breaks have on prospects. Female respondents are over three times more likely than men to have taken a career break. Of these, nearly half of women felt that their career break had had a detrimental impact on their career, compared with only a quarter of men. The report speculates that this may be related to the type of break taken. Notably, 93% of respondents who took a break for maternity, paternity or adoption leave are women, and just under six in 10 respondents who took a break to care for dependents felt this made their career prospects worse.

All these issues may contribute to the continuing gender pay gap. As in previous years, the pay gap increases with age. The median salary reported by women across all age categories is £38,400 – 78% of the earnings of male members. This salary difference is the smallest since 1980, though it remains to be seen whether it is part of a more general trend towards parity. By contrast, considering solely part-time and occasional workers, female part-time and occasional workers have a higher median salary than their male equivalents: £26,000 instead of £21,000. The reason for this difference is not clear, though it may be linked to the higher proportion of women who work part-time (16% compared with 11% of men).


1990’s Pay and Reward Survey reported that women earned 73% of men. ‘An increase of only 5% over 29 years suggests that at this rate we will need over 100 years to eliminate the gap,’ cautions Marina Resmini, professor of materials chemistry and head of the chemistry department at Queen Mary, University of London, who also chairs the RSC’s inclusion and diversity committee. ‘Unconscious bias, lack of diversity, bullying and harassment are key issues that need to be addressed in our community if we want to see a more significant change. The reports by the RSC continue to provide data that are an essential tool to promote a cultural change.’

Laura Norton, senior programme manager for inclusion and diversity at the RSC, says that it’s crucial to continue to monitor and report ongoing trends. ‘This most recent data reflects the findings of previous pay and reward surveys and our 2018 Diversity landscape of the chemical sciences report – that increased disparity is related to age and most often seniority. As described in our Breaking the barriers report, women are continuing to experience difficulties in achieving more senior positions and appropriate remuneration in those positions. Uncovering the interventions that really do have impacts towards reducing the gender pay gap and improving workplace culture is vital.’

With this in mind, the RSC has taken a number of actions. ‘Since the release of Breaking the barriers we have introduced new initiatives such as our Grants for Carers, forthcoming Assistance Grants and bullying and harassment telephone support service,’ explains Norton. ‘These initiatives are not only for women but, as our report indicated, the barriers we uncovered disproportionately affect women, and so their introduction begins to redress the balance.’

The RSC’s predecessor, the Royal Institute of Chemistry, performed its first salary survey in 1919, and the RSC now asks members about their salary, benefits, and work environment every two years. This year nearly 6200 people responded, forming a representative sample of the membership. Full reports are available to RSC members here: