Bias blamed for pay gap

September 15, 2006

Salary differential can be explained by sex discrimination, a survey has concluded. Mark Rodgers reports

Almost a quarter of the pay gap between male and female scientists in UK universities is due to discrimination, says new research released this week.

Sara Connolly of the University of East Anglia's School of Economics presented an analysis of 4,282 responses to the Athena Survey of Science, Engineering and Technology (Asset) at last week's British Association Festival of Science.

The findings suggest that 23 per cent of the difference in pay cannot be explained by factors such as age, seniority, type of institution or subject area.

"Women are about £1,500 a year worse off on average," Dr Connolly said. "We've taken into account the obvious things that might explain the pay gap, but these explain only about 80 per cent of it. What remains I suppose we would call discrimination."

She added that private-sector employers had been more active than universities in taking measures to reduce pay differentials between men and women.

"Action needs to be taken. Some higher education institutions are better than others, but the sector needs to learn from other types of employer," she said.

The analysis also found evidence to support the notion of a glass ceiling for female academic scientists between the senior lecturer and professorial grades. "Whether the subject is (perceived to be) predominately male or female, women are underrepresented at the higher levels," Dr Connolly said.

Sally Hunt, joint general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "We have said for years that women are discriminated against at every level, and this research sadly backs that up.

"There is no reason why more women should not be in the top jobs in our universities and being properly paid for their work.

"Fair, open and transparent recruitment and promotion procedures are in everyone's interests. Women want equality now, rather than wait until their daughters and granddaughters start work."

Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, said: "The sector is taking equal pay very seriously, and there are a number of measures in place. The situation is improving, but there is some way to go."

She said the new pay framework agreements in universities were designed to deliver equal pay for work of equal value.

The 2006 Asset survey was launched on September 5 and will run until October 20.

Details: www.surveys.athenaproject.org.uk/asset2006

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