The so-called Gender Pay Gap is, in fact, a Sex Pay Gap and the efforts that the university are suggesting around maternity and childcare are woefully inadequate, the latter mainly consisting of signposting things that are already available (though in the case of preschool childcare, pretty inadequate – it’s impossible, for example, to get additional hours/days at the Preschool Centre if asked to work extra time by one’s department).
The pay gap is in place way before we have children. Women are less mobile due to tending to have professional partners (while men are more likely to have partners in more portable and less professional jobs, since men earn more than their partners across society). Lancaster could make it easier for women to take a job if they have a professional partner, and advertise this. We could make it more flexible to, for example, take a sabbatical or a non-sabbatical career break so partners can move temporarily together. I had a big struggle when I wanted to take two terms’ sabbatical because it was the right time for my husband and me – he’d just been made redundant but apparently ‘we don’t do that in Psychology, we only take a full year’. One male colleague on hearing this said ‘oh I suppose my wife just gave up her job when I went on sabbatical’.
Women have more other caring responsibilities, not just children. My husband and I needed to stay locally for a number of years – at a time when other colleagues were getting promoted by moving jobs – because my husband’s mother was elderly and needed care. Few men help with care of their mother in law because that’s not what they’ve been taught since childhood.
Travel for work is often impossible for women with caring responsibilities – I couldn’t really travel for the first couple of years after we had children and the only reason I can now is because my husband’s work has become more flexible, not my job (he’s gone part time through choice but also his employer has pushed and enabled working from home a lot more. There’s been no change at all in the help Lancaster has given and no substantial change in the availability of childcare). Even a full day travel is impossible for me (London and back in a day for example) if I’m relying on outside childcare. This means not only could I not go to conferences at first but I also couldn’t go to e.g. a government meeting or grant meeting.
Because of Lancaster’s location, talented postgrads who want to stay in the area have to move into a professional services job – there are few commutable academic jobs if you don’t get one in Lancaster. This is more likely to affect women – men just move for work, while women stay put with, as I’ve said, a professional partner, non-childcare responsibilities or children.
Women have always been taught (since birth and, these days, before) that they are supposed to be less assertive. Obviously if you’ve managed to get a job in academia, you must have managed to push yourself forward to some extent. We recently had an excellent small workshop on promotion for women but previously the University has run workshops where at one a female professor just told us ‘it’s easy to be a professor, you just have to publish a lot and get grants’ (I can hear the hollow laughter of men and women echoing round campus!) and at another senior women just said ‘oh I’ve never experienced any discrimination’.
From the moment the doctor says ‘It’s a girl!’ or ‘It’s a boy!’ society treats us differently – our sex determines what gender roles society thinks we should take, following a partner as a trailing spouse, not speaking up to creepy supervisors, not putting ourselves forward for keynotes and promotions, taking on caring responsibilities for older and younger people – and that in turn determines how much we are paid.