Lancaster, the University of the Year 2018, has come near the top of yet another league table: the gender pay gap rankings, that is. According to its own recently published figures (http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/media/lancaster-university/content-assets/documents/edi/GenderPayGapReport.pdf), Lancaster’s gender pay gap of mean 27.7%, median 26.5%, against a sector average of mean 17.8% and median 13.7% puts us in third place nationally. Unfortunately we needn’t specify that the gap is between women earning less and men earning more. Judging by the reactions on social media and by questions to senior managers at numerous meetings, the University community has taken notice.
Where bad news falls, excuses are usually not far behind, and this expansive salary void is no exception: our glorious leaders attribute the gap to various factors, including Lancaster’s proud record of keeping cleaning staff (predominantly female workers) largely in-house, unlike many other HE institutions, and that fact that we have high numbers of lower-paid professional services staff who are mainly female while at the more senior (and higher-paid) professional services grades, the reverse is true. What is noted but not explained, however, is why academic, research and teaching staff are fairly evenly split up to grade 8, after which the proportion of women rapidly drops so that only 25% of professors are female. The official excuse for this is ‘low turnover’, but this seems rather weak. There is no official quota of professors, nor any sort of ‘one out, one in’ system.
The information about bonuses is also rather odd. Publishing this information is a requirement for all employers, and in sectors like banking, bonuses can make a huge difference to overall remuneration. But in Lancaster’s report this category includes only ex-gratia payments and staff awards, each limited to £1,000. Other forms of performance-related pay, are not mentioned, perhaps because they do not meet the definition of bonuses set out by the government. The VC used to get annual performance-related boosts to his emoluments, if he met his targets (which was not always the case – see subtext 156), but these are no longer listed in the University’s accounts. As far as ‘bonuses’ go, then, there seems to be some good news at least: women seem to have done rather well in this regard, with 6.1% receiving bonuses versus only 2.7% of males, and a bonus gap of 21.5% mean and 48.1% median. Trebles all round, Lancaster isn’t quite the den of unreconstructed Sid James-lookalikes it seemed to be…
Or is it? As any insightful analysis is resolutely lacking from the report, it is hard to say what these figures actually mean. For instance, are ex-gratia payments mostly paid to professional services staff in the lower half of the scale (a group that consists overwhelmingly of women)? Are they offered as a sort of consolation prize to people who have reached the top increment for their role, but have not been promoted to a higher-paid role? And are women more likely to be offered one-off ex-gratia payments versus accelerated increments, which would have a much greater effect on their pay longer-term?
Some of the action points listed at the end of the report are indeed laudable and necessary, but overall this feels like a bit of a rush job, ranking only somewhat above the meaningless word clouds and misleading stats of the last staff survey. The University has a legal requirement to publish these figures, but it could have done so much more, especially as everyone knew these figures would have to be published eventually. There is no breakdown by department or even faculty, and wholly insufficient information about linked factors like age, ethnicity, disability, and especially parental status. Once again, subtext readers may wonder why Lancaster doesn’t make more use of its world-leading experts, in this case to investigate, explain and work to mitigate the issues around the gender pay gap.