The latest gender pay reporting in the UK sadly revealed a continuing widening gap in opportunities for women in the workplace. From the public sector to private, some of the gaps are staggering.
And while each individual organisation must do more to address its bias, sometimes blatant but often unconscious, we need to come together as a society to understand the real reasons why this gap continues.
At the University of Worcester, which has just been ranked number one in the UK and joint 4th in the world for gender equality by Times Higher Education’s University Impact Rankings, and is the fairest university in the UK for gender pay for the second year running, we have deliberately chosen to work in high impact areas in society.
We champion professions that promote inclusion and create high “social value”. This includes creating courses and championing work in such areas as child and adolescent mental health; dementia studies; counselling psychology; perinatal education; disability sport; inclusive physical education; the study and prevention of domestic and sexual abuse and more. We aim to ensure that all the opportunities we create are available on a highly inclusive basis. In practice, the majority have been taken up by women.
Many of the essential, highly regarded professions in which we excel suffer from significant gender pay discrimination – including nursing and midwifery, the two professions most trusted by the UK public.
Our many early years graduates, who have earned a specific graduate qualification to work professionally with young children, are still not classified as working in a graduate profession by the Office for National Statistics.
Only a few years ago a representative of a “rankings organisation” (not Times Higher Education) described these graduates as qualified “child carers” which, in his view, was obviously not “graduate work”.
We continue to support campaigns to improve pay in these areas and urge all to take responsibility for recognising the importance of such roles and to make a fundamental change in their remuneration for the better.
Until society wakes up to the gross injustice of how professions and roles are valued, we will make far too little progress to truly achieve gender equality in the workplace.
At the University of Worcester, our mean average gender pay gap narrowed from 3.2 per cent to 2.1 per cent over this past year – so close to zero that random statistical fluctuation will likely soon produce a “gender pay gap” for men.
As far as we are concerned, the really key thing for us is that, as with last year, the university has virtually identical proportions of female employees in all four of its pay quartiles, meaning that women are neither under-represented at the top nor over-represented at the bottom.
Our workforce at every level reflects the overall makeup of the institution, which is 65 per cent female. This is most unusual in universities and the wider workforce generally. So how have we achieved this?
For many years, the university’s values, culture and systems have supported equality and fairness generally. Women have been 50 per cent or more of the executive leadership group at the university for more than 20 years.
We regularly monitor the employment life cycle of our staff; from initial recruitment, ensuring that we have fair and consistent selection processes; having career development opportunities open for all job roles; clear promotion and salary processes; and fair and flexible working practices.
Every year since we introduced new promotion systems in 2004, we have analysed the results for fairness and equality. This has led to improvements such as introducing awards for teams as well as individuals.
The culture and values championed by governors, staff and students has led to the creation of a virtuous circle in which colleagues throughout the university, women and men, feel valued and give their best.
Universities cannot be an island apart from society but we can, must and will be engines for change, including doing our best to be the change we want to see.
David Green CBE is vice-chancellor and chief executive at the University of Worcester.