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Gender Pay Gap Continues at University of Leicester

Published: 3rd April, 2019

The Suffragettes chained themselves to metal gates and held hunger strikes in order to receive the vote for women in the early part of the 20th century. Dagenham plant and Ford machinist women workers fought in the 1960s to be paid the same amount that men were being paid to carry out the same work in the factory. A long history of women’s struggles has led to some shifting of the imbalance between the treatment of men and women at work over time. However, while basic rights may now be in place, women are paid a lot less than men and there has been almost no improvement for the last decade.

University of Leicester’s gender pay gap is one of the widest in the UK. Image: Sarah Stierch, Flickr, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Indeed, a recent report from the World Economic Forum shows that women are paid 63% of the amount that men are paid internationally. This same report states that it will take no less than 202 years to get a balance of pay between sexes. In 2018, the gender pay gap slimmed slightly, but the number of women in professional managerial roles dropped. And as always, women are expected to sort things out, to struggle and protest and make trouble until they are listened to, despite the statistics showing this endemic problem, are blatant.

The UCU campaign on the gender pay continues, because women in academic, research, teaching and professional services contracts are significantly underpaid compared to their male counterparts, which has been repeatedly proven.

Gender Pay Gap Reporting Legislation

One way to attempt to at least make the cross-sector gender pay gap (GPG) problem transparent has been introduced in the UK, where all companies with over 250 workers are required to publish pay data. 2019 is the second year this has been required and the University of Leicester has prepared its report in time for the public sector deadline of 31st March (many companies are dragging their feet). The results, which compare 2017 to 2018, are about to be publicised across the University.

University of Leicester Gender Pay Gap

In March 2016, University of Leicester was the fifth worst for a GPG in the country. In 2018, UL improved slightly and fell at seventh worst, behind Lancaster, Royal Holloway, Durham, Liverpool, Oxford and Loughborough. In 2018, women earned 81p for every £1 that men earn, when comparing median hourly wages.

Results for 2018 show that University of Leicester’s mean GPG, or the middle value, is 23.1%, which is a slight decrease from 2017 when it was 24.1%. The median pay gap, or the pay gap average across all staff in the categories of men and women now sits at 19%, which is a slight decrease from 2017 when it was 22.7%.

The gender bonus pay gap has worsened from 56.3% in 2017 to 64.4% in 2018. Merit awards and clinical excellence awards are included in this statistic. The most affected are in the area of Clinical Excellence, which are NHS awards and can be up to £80,000. Grade 10 professors also receive bonusses. The proportion of men receiving a bonus was 5.4% and women, 4.3%. Over the past year, a ‘gender and background blind’ application process was introduced, where anonymity, it was hoped, would improve these figures, and perhaps this will work better over the next year. 

Women are over-represented in the lowest paid work, where 64.6% in the lowest paid quartile were women in 2018. 61.9% of workers in quartile 2 were women, 53.8% in quartile 3. This number drops significantly to 37.8% in the highest paid quartile (4). So, the University of Leicester is managed at the top by a majority of men and supported in the lower tiers of pay by women. This distinction indicates that there has been what may be an institutional bias in hiring women workers at the lowest pay tier and men workers at the highest. There are 53 women professors and 184 men professors  and the GPG is 3.4%.

Analysing the Data?

For the University of Leicester, the average salary for women academics is given as being around £30,000 per year. This is less that the starting salary for a lecturing position which sits at approximately £38,000 and this number is skewed by a larger proportion of women staff working part time hours, something that allows the University to argue that it does not underpay women staff but that they choose different and flexible working hours. A way of challenging this assumption would be to present the data as ‘full time equivalent’ (FTE), regardless of actual hours worked and pay received. This would still hide some potentially significant issues in gendered pay and career opportunities at the University.

A more nuanced approach to analysing the data that has been made available would tease out issues at various levels and make the UCU’s broader campaigning position stronger. While data in the GPG report is useful, perhaps more important data would be:

1.     A comparison of men’s/women’s pay by FTE – thus removing the problem of the higher proportion of part time women staff, assuming there is still a gap in favour of men the University can’t simply put this down to ‘choice’.

2.     Split the data by job level/grade. This would highlight an issue currently obscured in the way the data is presented. Some hypotheses on this could be:

a.     At Grade 8, women will on average earn more than men as more women may be ‘trapped’ at the top of the Lecturer scale revealing a glass ceiling in terms of promotion.

b.     At Grade 9 women will on average earn more than men as more women may be ‘trapped’ at the top of the Senior Lecturer/Reader scale revealing a glass ceiling in terms of promotion.

c.     A comparison of those who are in the ‘discretionary’ points of both Grade 8 and may show men are more likely to be awarded discretionary points and therefore expose a bonus pay gap by gender.

d.     At Grade 10, women may on average earn less than men 

e.     A comparison of starting salaries across the scales may show men are more likely to be appointed higher up the pay spine than women.


The University has announced a list of activities over the next year (2019-2010) that are hoped to lead to measurable improvements in the GPG.

The activities announced at a meeting in February 2019 about the GPG report include ‘gender balanced shortlists’ where, however, if a shortlist is all male – depending on ‘market forces’ as stated in the next activity at that meeting, where decisions will be ‘responding to market forces fairly and equitably in recruitment’ in the activities intended – the shortlist will require a form of ‘approval’. UCU has not yet identified where this approval will come from, and unfortunately, since market forces are currently,  favouring male hires in the higher paid positions, it would appear that it will take more than this to meaningfully sway the male dominated trend.

The University of Leicester’s GPG report notes that ‘As in many organisations, one of the key determinants of the gender pay gap at the University of Leicester is the disproportionally low number of female employees at higher grades and the absence of a gender balance at lower and middle grades. In order to close the gender pay gap, we need to balance the proportion of female and male members of staff at each level of the University’ (p. 6). Shortlists for hires as well as promotions, if required to include more than one woman, and if these shortlists turn in to hires and promotions e.g from Grade 9 to 10, should remedy some of this imbalance.More women were put forward by line managers last year than the previous one, the report mentions. However, it is not clear that the materialisation of these moves will be evident. 

A promising activity is also that ‘women-only promotion workshops’ will be offered. Mandatory Unconscious Bias training for all staff is being rolled out. A coaching and mentoring academy is to be introduced alongside the Woman’s Forum and Parents’ Network.

The University will apply for the next level of Athena Swan award in four years’ time, so it will be useful to see more visibility of activities in all Schools and Colleges. The level of activities have been distinctly different across Colleges, however, and in some areas, there has been almost no activity for some time. The He for She campaign is a good start toward addressing the GPG and should be emphasised, where everyone makes addressing the GPG a priority regardless of gender. 

Toward Effective Actions

At the introduction of UK gender pay gap legislation, government advice was provided for institutions really interested in addressing this.

The governments’ recommendations are entitled Effective Actions, which have been tried and tested in the ‘real world’, and unfortunately go much further to address the rampant inequality that has been demonstrated across the HE sector in the UK than the activities outlined at University of Leicester.

The government’s Effective Actions include:

‘Include multiple women in shortlists for recruitment and promotions. When putting together a shortlist of qualified candidates, make sure more than one woman is included. Shortlists with only one woman do not increase the chance of a woman being selected.’

This does not seem to be the local strategy, where it if a shortlist is all men, it will ‘require approval’ and will still be subject to market forces.

Use skill-based assessment tasks in recruitment. Rather than relying only on interviews, ask candidates to perform tasks they would be expected to perform in the role they are applying for. Use their performance on those tasks to assess their suitability for the role. Standardise the tasks and how they are scored to ensure fairness across candidates.’

If this is to be considered, LUCU has not been notified.

‘Introduce transparency to promotion, pay and reward processes. Transparency means being open about processes, policies and criteria for decision-making. This means employees are clear what is involved, and that managers understand that their decisions need to be objective and evidence-based because those decisions can be reviewed by others. Introducing transparency to promotion, pay and reward processes can reduce pay inequalities.’

There is a lot of murkiness around promotion as well as a political backlog of people who are absolutely at the right level for promotion, but cannot be promoted because of, perhaps financial reasons, but it is still, as with many Universities, still often the case that people are not fully aware of the reasons they are not promoted. LUCU holds that the murkiness of these processes and promotion rejections only lead to the likelihood of staff discontent and low morale as well as potential for infighting and disengagement.

The University of Leicester has committed to seeing better performance development reviews with women and better advice at the right moments to apply, but it is not clear what this means in practice and how nor whether it will meaningfully address the gender pay gap.

Overall, the authors of this report, who are UCU members, are glad to see compliance with the publication of the gender pay gap data and a strategy to address these in place. However, further development of action plans perhaps along the lines of the Effective Actions listed above, can address the ongoing problem of discrimination and clear inequality.