Staff inequalities at the University of Edinburgh must be tackled

The University of Edinburgh is a leading university in many ways. We top the tables as the largest university in Scotland, we have the largest budget surplus, the highest paid Principal and, now, one of the highest staff gender pay gaps of all the universities in Britain.

While equal pay legislation has been in place for over 40 years, gender-based institutional bias still overwhelmingly benefits men, with male employees in the UK earning 9.8 per cent more than their female colleagues.

Within the University of Edinburgh, the mean pay gap is almost double than that of the national average at a staggering 16.6 per cent, according to the university’s most recent Equal Pay Audit.

The university’s pay scales go from UE01 to UE10, with increasing salaries seen within each of these groupings. Looking further into the data, it can be clearly seen that male employees are clustered at the upper end of the pay scales – with 53 per cent of the total male staff at the university falling within the UE07 and UE10 categories – while female employees are more likely to work for lower salaries.

These figures become even more striking when looking at the demographics within UE10, the highest salary bracket at the university. Out of the 693 staff receiving these salaries, just 180 – or 25 per cent – are women and the other three-quarters are men. Furthermore, the University Court for Board Accountability – the committee that holds the university’s highest echelons of staff to account for issues such as gender equality – is 59 per cent male.

This is a shameful statistic that the university is “tackling”, however, with the pay gap closing by a pitiful 0.1 per cent between 2016 and 2017, the institutional change to increase demographic inequalities is clearly failing.

This is not uncommon within higher education, where the sector has a mean average pay gap of 15.9 per cent. The University of Cambridge reported a median 15 per cent hourly pay gap between male and female employees while Oxford University reported similar statistics with a 14 per cent difference. While the University of Glasgow’s figures are even more problematic than ours – with an 18.2 per cent gender pay gap according to a 2017 report – our university is still clearly failing female staff.

However, while the climate of gender disparity is shocking, we must look further than gender to tackle institutional inequalities within the university. The median pay gap for BME staff members is 7.1 per cent, with people of colour totalling just 9.7 per cent of the total staff base while comprising 18.1 per cent of the British population. Disabled staff members also experience systematic discrimination with a 6.8 per cent mean pay gap.

For LGBT+ staff members, the university does not even hold “sufficiently robust” data to report on the potential for disparities between salaries. While not confirming that a pay gap exists, the lack of research information confirms the university’s lack of commitment to intersectionalism.

Furthermore, no statistics are published for the gender pay gap across ethnic groups, or for women with disabilities. With racial prejudice and ableism further deepening the divide between the pay of white women and women of colour and that of able-bodied women and disabled women, the university continues to reinforce their lack of care in tackling inequalities across minority groups.

Some work has been done by other universities; the London School of Economics has given their female academics a pay rise to close their 10.5 per cent pay gap; the University of Essex has moved female professors up by three pay points to bring the average salary of women in line with that of men; and the University and College Union continue to lobby universities to “ensure we achieve our shared objective of eliminating the gender pay gap among academic staff.”

However, this development, while important, continues the trend of working towards gender equality while forgetting the intersectional divides that also exist between staff. By not recognising the institutional racism, ableism and prejudice that directly affects marginalised groups, the university reinforces the problematic social boundaries that prevent people other than straight white men from being equally integrated into the working environment.

To uphold their constant marketing spam of world-class innovation, research and development, places of higher education should be among the most progressive institutional forces fighting for the gender equality and systematic inclusion of marginalised groups. If the University of Edinburgh, and other universities across the country, do not effectively tackle this problem, then who will?

Intersectionality is vital in producing a vibrant and representative staff base. By creating more diverse sources of knowledge within departments, students can access a wider curriculum while students who are themselves from marginalised groups feel they are represented within the academic community. From a business perspective, the university would also gain a wider knowledge base that would tap into the widening demand for intersectional social science research, thus adding even more to the university’s £929 million annual revenue.

The university’s structure is confusing and complex, and accountability for issues of equality and diversity are often pushed to middle management staff members who themselves struggle because of the institution’s poor treatment of their employees. But this cannot prevent students from challenging those structures. Speak to your personal tutors, share information about this inequality with your fellow students, email upper management. Shout for intersectional inequality in an institution speaking about diversity in a whisper.

Image: Mike Licht via flickr.com

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The Student Newspaper 2016