“Universities pay women a fifth less” says the Times, “Another clever man here determined to blame the gender pay gap on anything except bias” a Labour MP says in response to an explanation of a university’s pay gap and “First gender pay gap data paints UK universities in poor light” says The Times Higher Education, but what does the data reported tell us about the pay gap at Universities?
Having analysed a representative sample, we’ve analysed the numbers to see what they tell us:
So, what’s the cause of the gap? In common with the private sector, the majority of universities have explained their gap, at least in part, by reference to an under-representation of women at senior levels, an explanation also frequently used by private sector employers, who, like universities, also then go on to describe the measures they’re taking to address this disparity. In my view however, the data we’ve looked at suggests that this explanation doesn’t quite pass muster in the way that it might for the private sector.
Whilst the private sector pay gap can, for many organisations, be explained by a large disparity in the proportion of higher paid roles being occupied by men and women, the factor that really opens up their gap is the extensive use of bonuses at high values in those organisations. In the university sector by contrast, there is less of a representation gap and bonus use is relatively uncommon. When we also consider that there appears to be a low likelihood of there being equal pay problems in universities following the 2016/17 UCEA work which examined gender pay gaps by job level (and found none) and the focus over the past few years on the professorial pay-gap e.g. the ‘not enough senior women’ explanation is looking somewhat flaky.
This suggests then, that for universities, a significant part of the explanation for the gap lies not only on the ‘where are the senior women?’ side of the equation but also on the ‘why do women outnumber men two to one at the lower end?/where are the lower-paid men?’ side.
With gender pay reporting becoming the annual event, properly understanding why gender pay differentials arise to effective addressing of these is likely to be key. Therefore the challenge for universities, and particularly their HR functions, will be have they fully understood why they have gender pay mismatch and got the appropriate measures in place to address this.