Why are women still getting paid less in university jobs?

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With March being home of both International Women’s Day and planned strikes endorsed by the UCU, we look again to the issues of the gender pay gap and how this affects higher education. Whilst many claim that the wage gap does not exist anymore, in reality, we are a long way off equality in the workplace. 

Women make up the majority of staff in higher education, yet there remains a gendered gap at almost every career level in the sector. This gets worse the higher the position as women experience less promotion to senior roles and encounter fewer rewards for their labour. Women are over-represented at the lower half of the pay scale and underrepresented at the top.

Now if we take a closer look at the facts, the UCU reported that in 2019, women in the UK university sector were paid a mean hourly wage that was 15.1% lower than their male counterparts. To bring it closer to home, taking the gender pay gap report of 2019 published by the University of Leeds, women earnt 88p for every £1 that men earn. This meant overall that a woman’s mean hourly wage was 18.9% lower than a man’s. As for median bonus pay, women earn 50p for every man’s £1, meaning that their bonus pay was 50% lower than their male colleagues.  These are disappointing statistics considering the enactment of equal pay legislation fifty years ago. 

To understand why the gap is prominent in higher education, first we must appreciate that there is a distinction between equal pay and the gender pay gap. The former means that it is illicit to pay men and women differently for performing equivalent work due to the Equal Pay Act introduced in 1970. The latter measures the difference between men and women’s average earnings amid a labour force. Equal pay is the legal issue whereas the gender pay gap is a much broader issue. 

So how does such an outdated issue come to fruition in a seemingly highly progressive workplace?  Why does the gender wage gap still occur? Well, discrimination still permeates the pay system. The value placed on work undertaken by women is deemed lesser, causing them to end up being paid less than men for the same role. Another crucial issue remains in the fact that men make up the majority of the highest-paid roles, despite forming a smaller percentage of the overall workforce. Additionally, whilst many use maternity as a reason to blame women for their own lower pay as the gender pay gap increases after childbirth, this takes the pressure off of employers to do anything about it, and creates a ‘motherhood penalty’  that could be solved through options of flexible and part-time work. 

What else can be done to solve it? The university released their further steps to eliminating gender pay gaps which included coaching for promotion, supporting working parents, funding programmes to get women into higher education roles and nurturing female potential in the workplace.  However, as the gap has pervaded for so long, will it ever be closed? 

Faye Clayton