On Tuesday, 8th March, the University’s Vice-Chancellor Janet Beer held a talk with the feminist society to mark International Women’s Day.
The talk summarised Janet Beer’s challenging and fruitful career so far. Beer is heralded by some standards as the prime example of an inspirational woman: she is a member of the top one per cent of earners, and occupies a managerial role.
Overall, just 25 per cent of University Vice-Chancellors in the UK are female. Some feminists have argued that the sizeable pay gap between Beer and her predecessor is illustrative of ingrained institutional sexism. Other critics have questioned why university Vice-Chancellors are paid more than Prime Minister David Cameron.
First, Professor Beer spoke about her background. After studying English at university, she studied an MA and a PhD, followed by a vibrant career in local government, involving stints with the Greater London Council and the Inner London Education Authority. Professor Beer was then Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University for seven years.
According to Beer, this public sector work instilled a sense of “equality” and “diversity” into her. She is eager to encourage the promotion of women to senior leadership and board membership positions.
Beer said that she was never afraid of leadership and management, and wishes these concepts were less toxic. Her hopes for the future of women at the top are high: Beer notes the 30 per cent club, who are working alongside universities to ensure that at least twenty per cent of Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) companies’ employees are female by 2020.
Controversially, Beer criticised the mentality of women in the workplace, arguing that they are backwards in putting themselves forward for positions, and that they handle rejection worse than men. As a single parent, Beer stressed that her career was not planned or seamless, but rather that careers are a process of growth.
Despite her focus on the importance of mentality and hard work in female employees, Beer acknowledged that there remains a significant gender imbalance in higher education: only 22 per cent of professors are women.
Since entering the Vice-Chancellor position, Beer claims that she has appointed more female staff in the Computer Science and Management schools. She has adopted the Athena SWAN Charter for Women in Science, to monitor the promotion rates of female employees. Beer has also asked for a gender pay audit, in what she calls the “first step” towards change.
Beer also noted the underrepresentation of men in Psychology, Veterinary Medicine and Nursing, arguing that gender inequality can go both ways. The University is in the early stages of introducing a four-tier salary structure to promote universality and fairness.
When the floor was opened to questions, Beer suggested that women’s confidence and negotiation skills were a major area where improvement could be achieved. Structuring networking opportunities, she noted, is also important. Quotas should be allowed, said Beer, since UK progress is currently too slow.
However, Freedom of Information requests investigating the monetary dealings of the University of Liverpool have been refused — including those relating to pay.
The Sphinx raised this issue with Professor Beer, who claimed to not have information on this subject and pledged to look into the legal grounds of this refusal.
Recently, campus boycotts have been a heated source of debate, whether based around conflict, gender or environment.
“As far as I know we are ethical in our investment from companies”, said Beer. “Everything is a balance, hard decisions have to be made about where we source our finance.”
Beer made sure to mention that the gap between her and her predecessor’s pay is “more like 30 per cent”. She was “surprised”, when she found out that she would only earn £339,000 per year, but was told that her pay is benchmarked against that of other institutions.
The controversial Liverpool Medical Student Society episode was unearthed as discussions continued. Janet Beer took a dim view of the medics, saying that she wouldn’t want her daughter sat with a GP or consultant who thought rape was funny, but hopes the society can return if it abandons such misbehaviour.