University gender pay gap decreases, but not for everyone

New employment figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have shown that the pay disparity between male and female full-time academics at universities has decreased significantly in the past year, as salaries have risen for female academics overall.  

The annual salary gap between full-time male and female academics UK-wide has decreased from 14 per cent in 2014 to 12.7 per cent in 2015, according to an analysis by The Student—a 9.3 per cent improvement.

Full-time female academics are now making £45,961 a year on average, an increase of 3.8 per cent from last year. Male academics made £52,648 this year, a 2.2 per cent gain.

The disparity in average weekly hours worked between male and female remained virtually unchanged from 2014—35.9 for males and 35.6 for females—suggesting that the decrease in salary disparity came from higher wages for female academics, and not longer hours.

But while the data shows vast improvement at the full-time level, salary figures for part-time employees showed a different pattern.

Between 2014 and 2015, the average salary for male part-time university employees rose by 16.4 per cent to £16,380. In contrast, female salaries rose 5.2 per cent, to £14,150 on average. 

As a result, the overall gender pay gap at the part-time level has skyrocketed from 4.4 per cent in 2014 to 13.6 per cent in the span of a year, according to analysis from The Student.

Yet overall, the situation has improved. The pay gap for all university staff is 14.7 per cent, a 1.3 per cent decrease from last year, and substantially lower than the nation-wide pay gap of 19.2 per cent, according to the ONS.

Speaking on the findings to The Student, Chris Hall of the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), a national organisation dedicated to reducing disparities in universities, said the current figures were a result of a multitude of causes.

“The reasons behind pay inequality are complex and influenced by many factors,” he told The Student.

“These include contract type, progression and lack of women representation in more senior and usually better paid roles.”

One potential factor behind the narrowing gap is the rise of initiatives to increase female participation in academic fields. In 2005, the ECU launched the Athena SWAN initiative, a project that rated universities and assigned awards for improvement to gender equality, creating incentives for change.

Originally targeted toward STEM subjects with higher gender disparities, the initiative was expanded this year to arts and humanities, and now has 132 universities participating.  This year, the University of Edinburgh attained a Silver Institution award.

Various analysts have credited Athena SWAN with being a significant contributor for progress.  Speaking to The Student, Chris Hall said: “The Athena SWAN [initiative] requires HEIs [Higher Education Institutions]to critically assess their own practice to help address the lack of women in senior roles – a major factor of the pay gap.”

But equality is still a ways away.  A study last month from the ECU found that academics earning more than £50,000 a year were twice as likely to be male than female in 2015, despite women comprising 55 per cent of the academic workplace.

Women also remain vastly underrepresented at higher levels of universities, comprising only one in five vice-chancellors, and 22.4 per cent of professors overall.

“There is still a massive job to be done,” Hall told The Student.

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