A recent study, released on International Women’s Day in March, has shown that female professors at The University of Liverpool are on average paid over £8,000 less than their male counterparts. This makes it the ninth worst institution in the UK for gender pay inequality. The survey predicts it could take until 2050 to close the gender pay gap.
Why is it that 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was implemented, staggering figures revealing gaps in all workplaces are evident? Clearly the gender pay gap isn’t a myth created by the ‘feminazis’.
Why is something so archaic, such as treating women as though they are secondary to men, still going on in an institution that prides itself on being part of the Russell Group?
Our Vice Chancellor is a woman, and data has shown only 25 per cent of Vice Chancellors across 160 institutions in the UK are female. Previously the university’s marketing has focused on the first woman in the Old Bailey having attended this university, and our Guild has run campaigns like the ‘Call It Out’ campaign.
This clearly shows the enthusiasm our university has for women’s rights. So why does this problem continue to exist? Yes, there has been progress and clearly this issue is not as bad as, say, a hundred years ago, but that is not good enough. The problem of the gender wage gap should be eradicated with no delays. Cardiff University and University College London are far lower down on the pay gap list, with almost half the size of Liverpool’s gap. Why are we so behind?
The common argument that women would dominate workplaces “if they actually were paid less” is mistaken. The gender pay gap exists largely because of society’s misconceptions that women are less qualified, capable or talented in the workplace, thus men should be paid more. This also causes women to be in lower ranked jobs, and does NOT make them more likely to be hired.
The gender pay gap is far more complex than women ‘choosing’ lower-paid jobs. The gender imbalances of students and staff across subjects at our university are largely due to expectations and pressure on people to adhere to their gender role, a lack of encouragement and assistance of women to go into subjects such as Chemistry and Engineering and for men in subjects such as English and Nursing. It is also much harder for women to get into high ranking, leadership and management roles.
Women don’t all prefer pink dresses and men don’t all love violent video games: gender is not biological but sociological. So just because some women do choose English and some men do choose Engineering out of enjoyment, doesn’t mean there aren’t people of the opposite gender struggling to get into those areas.
It does look like the issues are beginning to be tackled by the new Vice Chancellor, Janet Beer. In a talk with Beer that Feminist Society hosted in March, she addressed the issues of the gender pay gap, also admitting that she is paid roughly 30 per cent less than her male predecessor. She told the audience that a new, tiered system is being introduced. Each employee will be put into one of the four levels: these will have set salaries and specifications that will ensure salaries are in line with abilities and women will be paid equally when in the same professions as men.
The four different levels will stop individuals being able to negotiate their own salaries. Women are often paid less because they lack confidence when negotiating their salary, in contrast to men who are much more assertive. Why is that? Probably because society puts women down when they look too ambitious or bossy, whereas these traits are commendable on a man.
Beer said it is important to “not rely on the pushiness of the person: if we have proper salary levels it shouldn’t be up to how aggressive or how demanding you are of your salary.”
The new system has been implemented in some institutions and Janet Beer testified to how well it had worked:
“At Queens Belfast, the majority of women were in level one, and majority of men higher up. The big movements took place for women from level one to level two and many men are on their way down, because they aren’t performing to the specification’s standards.”
However, Queen’s Belfast still has a 3.6 per cent pay gap between genders. Although issues might be starting to be addressed, this work needs to be rapid and people’s attitudes to gender need to be tackled at the core. Paternity leave is an important issue to be addressed, so that both men and women alike will have equal responsibility over their children and companies won’t dismiss hiring women because they see them as a constant child-birthing uterus rather than as an intelligent autonomous human.
The pay gap is also an intersectional problem. Older women face even worse pay gap issues than younger women, with women in their fifties earning nearly a fifth less than men that age. Research has shown that trans women’s salaries are almost a third less after transitioning. It is also an ethnic issue: Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers do a disproportional amount of lower-paid work, are less likely to receive promotions than white co-workers, and are more than twice as likely to be on the minimum wage.
Despite little progress in the pay gap, there has been some recent progression for women in the workplace, such as the Bristol company ‘Coexist‘ introducing menstrual leave for workers. Menstrual leave is already in place in Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Russia Taiwan and Hong Kong. Furthermore, according to NHS Choices, 14 per cent of women are frequently unable to go to work because of extreme period pains.
The concept of equal pay should be obvious, not a provoking, controversial issue. At a university making thousands in profit off students annually, it’s really not that big an ask.
A University of Liverpool spokesperson said: “The University of Liverpool is committed to the principle of equal pay and we work hard to ensure our pay systems are fair and free from gender bias.
“We constantly seek to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination and monitor the gender balance of applicants as well as promotions for all positions, for any gender bias.
“We are working across the University to understand more about the factors that impact on pay for men and women, which include the proportion of male and female academics; part time working; the use of fixed term contracts; distribution of men and women across pay grades and where individuals sit within pay scales.”