An average female academic in a UK university will earn between four and five years less salary than an equivalent man working the same number of years between starting and retiring, according to Association of University Teachers general secretary David Triesman.
Addressing the AUT women's annual meeting this week, he said research being examined by the Bett committee into pay and conditions showed that women formed nearly half of the higher education workforce yet they were concentrated in the lowest grades and had the worst pay.
"It is a picture of systematic discrimination for which no employer has a sustainable excuse," he said.
AUT's analysis out this week of 1996-97 Higher Education Statistics Agency data on gender shows women are 33 per cent more likely to be employed on fixed-term contracts than men and 550 per cent less likely than men to be appointed to a professorial grade.
Other data, published by the Commission on University Career Opportunity last year, shows women represent just 8 per cent of vice-chancellors, principals and rectors, 14 per cent of pro vice-chancellors, assistant principals and assistant rectors, 15 per cent of deans and 24 per cent of registrars and administrative heads.
Women make up only 12 per cent of directors of finance or estates, student services or personnel and human resources.
Mr Triesman said: "There has to be absolutely upfront transparent procedures backed by monitoring. We should also be really tough about targets."
A spokeswoman for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said:
"The CVCP is committed to having equitable employment conditions and to promoting women in higher education. The position for women in higher echelons has improved over the past few years as a result of action taken by the CVCP and others."
Only last week the CUCO had launched the women's higher education register and the Athena project to compile information and offer support, she said.
She blamed the AUT for rejecting Higher Education Role Analysis, which could help identify gender discrimination. "Despite the potential benefits of this system the AUT has yet to support it," she said.