Last week, the BBC released an eye-opening article detailing the ethnic pay gap between non-white academics and their white contemporaries. Essentially, many academics have been realising that, for equivalent jobs, they have been underpaid compared to their white co-workers. Note that in a previous BBC article, 86 per cent of responses in a survey of Russell Group academics identified themselves as white. Subcutaneous in the mechanisms of our academic institutions, it is clear that we have underlying, undeniable racial prejudice. Add in the fact that many of the quoted academics are also female, and we see also a strong element of sexism.
Though the article – among many similar such articles – focused primarily on ethnic discrimination, the issues raised could lie anywhere on the scale of subliminal discrimination. In the cases of many individuals, their treatment could be the gender pay gap rearing its head, or the common anti-immigrant ethos manifesting itself, or even just negligence and lazy stereotyping by anonymous faces in a gigantic organisation. Discrimination is extremely likely to exist somewhere in the ladder of huge, hierarchical organisations, but this does not render it excusable. It is not just prejudice either, but laziness by those involved. It cannot be there is one racist is sitting behind a desk, typing out unequal salary contracts. Moreover, openness about pay, in general, is more than achievable in institutions, especially if voices aren’t afraid to ‘rock the boat.’ In the BBC article, an upper administrator suggested to an academic, suffering with lower pay, that they should submit an application for a relatively small amount of ‘recognition pay,’ a laughably inadequate attempt at confronting a blindingly obvious case of racism. It is clear to see that negligence and discrimination form a lethal combination.
Almost every university website boasts words like ‘diversity’, ‘multicultural environment’, ‘equality’, alongside promises of zero-tolerance towards intolerance. The students – the customers of the institution, as it were – should view these promises as supercilious and hypocritical if they are delivered by hands that mistreat their employees. How can we use education to promote a brighter, more diverse future when prejudice is endemic at its core? Education as a concept should never stand for bigotry, nor negligence. Extrapolated on a larger scale, Britain should not get a reputation for being the nation which hates immigrants and withholds equality in its academic institutions. Put simply, we should have the honour to wholeheartedly welcome every culture, gender and background into our places of learning.
After all, discrimination is, at its roots, a perception of unworthiness. These academics are assumed to be unworthy of equal pay to their white, male peers; they are even assumed to be unworthy of the mere respect that equal pay represents. This is shocking and cries out for swift action. Looking forward, academics and non-academics alike need to form a force promoting openness about pay, and nothing less than equal salaries in their profession. Accordingly, those who have been affected by discrimination deserve financial and emotional compensation for their treatment. With these two baby steps, we might begin the walk towards actual, real, enduring equality.
Image: Elaine Smith via Flickr