Students Staff
University of Essex

June 13, 2016

Closing the gender pay gap

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, recently announced the decision to close the gender pay gap between male and female professors at the University of Essex. Here, he tells us more about how that decision was made and about his ongoing commitment to equality. 

The University has announced that it will make a one-off uplift payment in the salaries of female professors, to close the gender pay gap between women and men at Essex. Across the UK there is a gender pay gap in many sectors and nearly five decades after the Equal Pay Act of 1970, aggregate data shows a gap of £5,732 in average full-time annual salaries between women and men. In Higher Education in the UK women professors are paid on average 5.8 per cent less than men – and at Essex we don’t think this is acceptable.

Like many other organisations, we have inherited a pay structure, which in places is skewed. To address this we have done a great deal across all pay grades to try and close the gender pay gap. Over the last three years we have made progress, but in one specific area, the pay of female and male professors, there remains a significant pay gap. Our action was driven by impatience with other policies failing to close the pay gap quickly enough, so we have taken a decision to make a one-off uplift to close the pay gap.

Why has a pay gap arisen?

There are complex historical reasons for the gender pay gap and some are undoubtedly related to factors outside the University. In general we know that female staff put themselves forward for promotion to professor later than men, even when they are likely to be ready for it. This means that fewer women are being promoted to Professorial posts and are taking longer to get there. Once they become professors female staff have been less likely than men to apply for increments and bonuses.

Why have we taken action now?

I have been asked why have we taken this action now, when no other university has taken this step? For us, this decision is about living up to our own University’s values which make clear the importance of a diverse and inclusive environment in which we treat our members with equal respect and dignity. This means that we should be rewarding people in a fair and transparent way, based upon their contribution to our community, regardless of their personal characteristics.

We undertook an equal pay audit and identified that in one area – professorial pay – our female Professors were being paid a lower basic salary than male professors. This difference was evident when statistical controls are applied for research performance, research income record and service in University posts. So with effect from 1 October 2016, female professors will receive three additional increments in their pay – about £4,000. This will reset their salary level and the new rate will be paid from then on.

We know that alone, this step will not be enough. That’s why we are taking eight actions to ensure that the gap does not open up again:

  • Recruitment: we have looked at the recruitment of mid-career professors, and want to be more explicit in adverts about the possibility of working part-time or flexibly or as a job-share; using positive action statements in recruitment literature; revising all recruitment and selection guidance to include underlying principles of inclusivity, values based, effective assessment, fairness and consistency.
  • Unconscious bias: we are embedding unconscious bias in relevant training in recruitment and selection, for Academic Staffing Committee members, leadership and management development training; providing tailored unconscious bias training to our senior leadership team (a subset of whom are also members of the Professorial Salary Review Group) and Council members (a subset of whom are members of Remuneration Committee who approve salary reviews for Professorial staff)
  • Promotion: we are running academic promotion workshops to demystify the process, preparing Senior Lecturers for promotion to professor, running a Talent Development Programme; and working on clarifying what it means to be a professor at Essex.
  • Networking: we are encouraging staff to engage with relevant networks for example the Women’s Network and Parents’ Support Network; and will be involving staff networks routinely in the development of new/revised policies/processes in order to ensure a wide range of voices are heard.
  • Flexible working: we are encouraging flexible working where appropriate, providing support for returning researchers through a new Work/Life Balance Policy; developing case studies that highlight examples of flexible working and how it has benefited both the individual and the University.
  • Mentoring: we are putting in place career and peer mentoring services including reverse mentoring and diversity mentoring.
  • Role models: we are identifying role models and raising their profile through the use of case studies, videos and their participation in relevant events.
  • and Salary management: we are ensuring that any variations to salary are robustly managed for example through the newly reviewed market supplements policy.

So this isn’t the end of the story and there is more we will need to do to make sure we continue to live up to our values of rewarding people in a fair and transparent way, based upon their contribution to our community, regardless of their personal characteristics. Although no significant pay gaps have been identified at other grades and for other staff groups, the University will be conducting another Equal Pay Review during this year across all pay grades and covering all staff groups to ensure this remains the case.

Why take action for staff who are some of the best paid in the University?

We have already taken a number of actions to improve pay and/or the way it is allocated for various other groups. We have ensured that we pay the living wage to University staff and staff working in Campus Services, we are reviewing our use of Graduate Teaching Assistants to improve pay and terms and conditions of service, we have looked hard at when and where we use variable hours contracts and we have undertaken a great deal of work to minimize the inappropriate use of fixed term contracts. We will be conducting another Equal Pay Review during this year across all pay grades and covering all staff groups to ensure that there are no other areas where action might be necessary.

Our commitment

Our commitment is to develop the capacity and capability within our staff to deliver the goals we have set in our Strategic Plan; to live the values we have embraced; and to support each other in contributing individually and collectively to the best of our ability and to develop our own potential. The action to close the gender pay gap at the professorial level is part of this quest, so it isn’t the end of the story – there is more that we can and need to do.

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