Women are, on average, paid twenty-two-point-six per cent less than their male counterparts at St Andrews University. The large St Andrews Gender Pay Gap is detailed in a report introduced by Sally Mapstone, in which she states that “Diversity is at the core of the University’s strategy”. Comparatively, the Russel Group University average is 19.6 per cent and the UK economy average sits at 17.9 per cent.
The Gender Pay Gap (GPG), is a measure of the difference between average pay for both sexes across an entire institution. Legislation introduced in 2017 required any organisation with 250 or more employees to publish and report specific figures about their gender pay gap, but this did not apply to Scotland. The University published the report when under no obligation to do so, and feel that this serves as a statement of intent to eradicate inequality.
The report, titled ‘Gender Pay Gap Report 2018’, should attract increased scrutiny after UCU members recently came to the close of their three-week Candlemas semester strike. The UCU claims that these strikes were over “pensions and pay and working conditions” under which the gap in gender pay falls, and UCU general secretary Jo Grady claimed that “the ballots reflect just how unhappy and angry staff are at the state of higher education in the UK.”
Whilst a shocking statistic, the mean gender pay gap is not the best way of highlighting inequality within the University between the sexes. Under the 2010 Equality Act, the unequal payment of employees working the same job was made illegal, and there is no feeling among the UCU that the University is breaking the law in this regard. Instead, the most revealing statistics in the report concerned the issue of role segregation, where women are kept in lower-paid jobs, or jobs predominantly carried out by women are not valued as highly. For example, women only occupy a third of jobs in the highest quartile pay bracket, but two-thirds in the lowest.
Tom Jones, the immediate past president of UCU St Andrews, explained that the best format for demonstrating the GPG was through the 1-9 pay grade system, for which jobs, or job types, are evaluated, and placed at a point on the pay scale. The pay scale is the same across all UK higher education institutions, though the transitions between grades may come at slightly different points. Mr Jones pointed to the highest pay grade (9, or professor), in which only 23 percent of employees are women, yet are paid 4 percent less on average throughout the grade.
The University has identified this problem. They aim to have eliminated the GPG in St Andrews by 2023, and list steps that are being taken to achieve that goal. Professor Ruth Woodfield was appointed as the University’s first Vice-Principle for Diversity in 2018 as part of the effort to eradicate the GPG.
Additional steps taken by the University include the establishment of a working group with local Trade Unions, the revision of recruitment and promotion procedures, and the requirement of “mandatory unconscious bias and diversity training for recruitment and promotion board members.”
Mr Jones, however, claimed that the University – which maintains that strikes are a national issue – was not doing enough. He said: “The pay gap is a reason to strike because it has persisted for many years, despite universities saying they want to close it. There are indeed structural and systematic steps concerning designing jobs, advertising them, recruiting to them, and organising reward/promotion once in post, that should make it more difficult to discriminate against women. Without UK-wide agreement on the standards to which individual universities can be held on this issue (and on the ethnicity pay gap, casualisation, workload issues), they will always turn around and say it’s better here than elsewhere, or it will take a long time to end the pay gap, or provide other excuses. The sector has failed to address the issue adequately without this pressure.”
When asked to comment on this claim, Professor Woodfield stated that “progress is necessary to improve any gaps in reward, progress, experience or retention for staff and students alike.” She especially highlighted the key role of the previously mentioned working group that has been created, which she said: “has been ensuring our data and evidence is as detailed as it can be, exploring the underlying causes of the pay gap in St Andrews, and identifying initiatives to tackle the pay gap, such as examining how we advertise job vacancies and workshops on promotional procedures.”
This data and evidence, Professor Woodfield claimed, indicated “that the latest staff Gender Pay Gap figures, to be released later in the spring, show that there has been a further reduction in both the mean and median gender pay gap figures. This reduction builds on the reduction reported last year.”
To many students, the GPG of university staff may not register highly on their list of concerns, especially in the current climate. The recruitment app Debut, however, would argue that it should be higher up that list. A recent online article posted two months ago, using statistics published by the government in 2019, established that the University of St Andrews has the fourth-largest GPG among British university graduates. Using figures relating to the earnings of students who graduated in 2005/06 for the 2016/17 tax year, it found that male graduates earned, on average, £10,900 more than their female counterparts. That is a GPG of 24.1 per cent.
Professor Woodfield rubbished the findings, telling me that the “most recent destination information shows us that our female graduates have consistently higher employment and further study rates than our male graduates… The report in question refers to degrees awarded 5-10 years ago and does not take into consideration graduates working outside of the UK nor self-employed graduates. As the University of St Andrews has a significant proportion of international students and many who go on to work overseas after they graduate, then there will be a large proportion of our graduates excluded from this report and this means that it is providing only a partial snapshot of salaries and pay gaps.”
A partial snapshot indeed – but a fairly damning one. When asked what he thought of the statistics, James Brockbank, Managing Director of Digitaloft, the company responsible for promoting the article, said he thought it was important students were aware of the graduate pay gap. He also mentioned that “while we wouldn’t suggest students should base their choice of university based solely on this issue, it’s certainly something that they’d want to be aware of.” It is no surprise to hear that students might want to consider which opportunities offer the greatest, and fairest, rewards when making important life choices. Perhaps the GPG should feature more prevalently among those considerations – the issue is undoubtedly an important and relevant one.
The crux of the matter is, of course, its solution. A Sunday Times Leading Article on 8th March (International Women’s Day), reinforced the fact that a higher proportion of women are in part-time jobs. It reported that the GPG is almost halved when looking at full-time workers, and effectively disappears when examining full-time workers in their thirties. It is undeniable that these facts point to the unavoidable reality that many women are forced to choose between their careers, and raising a family. Part-time jobs ease childcare burdens, especially in traditional families where the man is the breadwinner.
The biology surrounding parenthood will not change; the culture must instead. Some companies are reluctant to hire women who may go on to have children, but others are leading the way in maternity and paternity arrangements, with some even suggesting that the term “maternity leave” unjustly proffers an expectation of who should take leave to care for a new baby. This results in the preservation of traditional male and female roles, despite social sanctions to establish equality.
Those looking to point fingers should not, then, scapegoat mothers for high gender pay gaps, but instead at employers who do not try their best to implement fair, unbiased procedures for employment and promotion. The legitimate and honourable desire of a woman to have children should not impact her chances of furthering her professional career. This has been recognised at the highest level. In 2017, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (which enforces the previously mentioned 2010 Equality Act) published a report entitled ‘Fair opportunities for all: A strategy to reduce pay gaps in Britain’.
The report concluded that reporting on the issue was not enough. It recommended all businesses and organisations publish their gender pay gap statistics. More specifically, it suggested that employers should “Tackle prejudice and bias in recruitment, performance, evaluation and reward decisions” and “Use fair, transparent processes with positive action and talent pipeline development for appointment to senior and board roles”.
It is clear, from the advisory nature of the report’s comments, that prejudice against women in the workplace will not be overcome through cold, hard legislation. Instead, it must come through education, and a shift in the way we all view women’s roles in society – that of being equally able and professionally capable as men. We can do this most effectively by raising awareness and fighting inequality through public denouncement. This is not a quick fix, but no quick fix is realistic or attainable.
Overall, regardless of the path a woman chooses to take, her ambitions should, in the words of legal activist Dorothy Kenyon, be “bounded only by their talents, abilities and potentialities as individual human beings.” Societal change does not happen overnight – the University recognises this and is making the appropriate changes. We students sit in the midst of these positive changes and should do all we can to advance it. Future statistics should be able to speak for themselves.