Athena SWAN and Gender Pay Gap

Posted in: University Athena SWAN

2019 marks 10 years since the University achieved its first institutional Athena SWAN Bronze award. As we are now preparing to upgrade our award from Bronze to Silver, USAT will have to explore findings from the most recent equal pay audit as well as look into the pay gap at the professorial levels. As a member of Athena SWAN, University committed to ten Athena SWAN principles and the fourth principle states:  ‘We commit to tackling the gender pay gap’. In addition, Athena SWAN specifically requires Universities to investigate whether women who reach professor level also reach the higher pay levels within these grades since the evidence in the sector implies this is rarely the case.

The ‘gender pay gap’ is the average percentage difference between earnings for women and men. It has become a hot topic in the news, in part because of changes to reporting rules requiring UK companies with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap data. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is responsible for ensuring employers publish their pay gap figures.

Infographic on gender pay gap from Financial Times, source:

Across the UK, men earned 17.3% more than women in April 2019 according to the Office for National Statistics.  A Times Higher Education analysis shows that women in UK Universities were paid, on average, 15.1% less than male colleagues. Every University reported a gender pay gap in favour of men in 2019 and at one in five institutions the male advantage was growing. In 2018, the University of Bath reported that the mean hourly wage for women in 19.8% lower than men’s. Equal pay legislation ensures that there is equal pay for equal work, so what are the factors underlying the gender pay gap?  Across higher education institutions the higher number of males at senior levels, compared with female staff, is likely one of the key factors influencing this pay differential.

To address this question at Bath, the Gender Pay Gap Working Group (GPGWG) was established to conduct a deeper analysis of the statistics and a consideration of what can be done to address the pay gap. We interviewed Professor Orietta Marsili who was the Chair of the GPGWG to find out more about the work this group has done over the year.

What encouraged you to join the Gender Pay Gap working group?

I joined the School of Management in 2013 coming from the Netherlands where I worked for ten years at the Rotterdam School of Management. I thought that my personal experience of academic life in different institutions and countries, while being a parent of two young children, could have been useful for reflecting on the challenges of women in academia. As a quantitative researcher I was intrigued by the possibility of understanding these challenges from a data-driven approach.

What did GPGWG do over the last year?

From January to June 2019 the working group met four times to discuss the information and materials collated in a number of preparatory meetings by smaller teams around specific focus areas. In our discussions we sought to integrate the analysis of statistics on the gender balance and the pay distribution with qualitative information on current practices and processes. For example, we looked at job adverts, we heard the experience of the recruitment team, we compared the maternity leave and returning carers’ scheme of other universities. The working group drew on the contribution of a team representing a broad range of stakeholders, from Human Resources; the Equality and Diversity Committee; and the Unions (UCU, Unison, and Unite).

What were the key areas GPGWP focussed on?

We wanted to understand how gender plays a role in each of the stages of an employee’s career lifecycle, considering attraction, recruitment, development and separation (or exit). What emerged is that despite the success in attracting women (for example the proportion of women professors has doubled in the last five years) there are still obstacles to retain academic women at the early stage of career and for more senior women to progress towards the high end of the pay distribution, both in the professional services staff (PSS) and in education and research (E&R). In our working group, we tried to disentangle the structural component of the gender balance from possible sources of bias in the gender pay. This is a challenging effort which requires more in-depth analysis going forward.

What were the outcomes of the GPGWP?

We submitted a report to the Equality and Diversity Committee presenting a number of recommendations articulated around some critical areas, while considering differences between job families (PSS, E&R) and subgroups (Academic, Teaching and Research). As for PSS, recommendations included seeking for gender balance of committees for promotion and hiring; and flexible working options at all grades, unless a case is made for this not be suitable. In the E&R job family, attention was drawn on the probationary system, the internal promotion system, and leadership programmes. A suggestion was made for more transparency on the pay range in job offers and progression.

What do you think are key priorities going forward when it comes to addressing the gender pay gap at Bath?

I think it is critical to support the career development of people with caring responsibilities or returning from a career break, often due to maternity leave. There is no one-size-fit-all solution. For some, it may involve enabling flexible working hours/location also at senior level, for others it may involve easing the workload upon return or a dedicated funding scheme. But above all, it is important that any step one wants to take is embedded in a culture of inclusion. Developing a gender pay gap action plan, as a process, enhances awareness and engagement, helping to nurture such a culture.

Edward Webster, Deputy Director of Workforce Development in HR, was also actively involved in GPGWG. He said: “The academic leadership provided by Professor Marsili ensured a diverse group of interested parties from across the spectrum of the University applied rigour to the data and analysis available. This led to a clear area of focus and pragmatic recommendations that, when taken together, the University should be confident will have a genuine impact.”

Aiste Senulyte, ED&I Officer at the University of Bath, and Dr Sarah Bailey, who is a Senior Lecturer in Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at the University of Bath, Faculty of Science Athena SWAN Champion and an active member of USAT, have brought the Athena SWAN Anniversary series project to mark a 10-year anniversary since the University achieved its first Bronze award. You can read more stories here.

Posted in: University Athena SWAN


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