Gay academics settle for wage 'consolation prize'

May 26, 2006

Report suggests that homophobia can damage job prospects, writes Tony Tysome

A glass ceiling in higher education is depriving homosexual academics of the promotions enjoyed by their heterosexual colleagues, according to new research.

The study by Jeff Frank, a professor of economics at Royal Holloway, University of London, suggests that while gay men are less likely to be promoted than their heterosexual colleagues, their pay is often increased as a "consolation prize".

A paper on the findings says that gay male academics are more likely to rise to the top of their pay scale, which may give them a larger salary than they would get at the bottom of the next grade up.

"Some may be offered more pay as a consolation prize for not being promoted in the hope that this will keep them from accusing their employer of discrimination," Professor Frank suggests.

Professor Frank based his research on data relating to 800 staff at six universities that was supplied by the Association of University Teachers.

He found that more than two thirds (67 per cent) of gay male staff who felt discriminated against after not receiving a promotion attributed this to homophobia.

While 14 per cent of lesbian staff reported suffering discrimination that resulted in not being promoted, none attributed this to homophobia.

Other research based on the same data, which was conducted by Professor Frank and Alison Booth, of Essex University, challenges many common theories about discrimination in higher education. This includes the assumption that the pay gap between men and women is a result of women taking career breaks for childbirth, childcare and other domestic reasons.

A draft paper by Professor Frank and Professor Booth concludes that because academic jobs are so flexible compared with most other sectors, childcare responsibilities have no impact on wages.

And although the research showed that married men in administrative university posts enjoy a 20 per cent pay "premium" compared with their married female colleagues, the same does not apply to academics.

The data revealed that in the case of academics, married women earn 4 per cent less than their married male colleagues, and 2 per cent more than single male colleagues.

Married male academics in the study were paid on average 10 per cent more than single women, and single men 4 per cent more than single women.

Professor Frank said that although more research was needed to confirm the statistical significance of these results, it appeared that discrimination was the most likely explanation for the overall pay difference between male and female academics.

"The problem is that productivity is not easily measured, in universities or other workplaces, and pay ends up being determined by discrimination and cronyism," he said.

Professor Frank warned that the findings illustrated the dangers of trying to address the gender pay gap with a blanket pay rise for all women.

"The problem is that not all men are benefiting from the gender gap and not all women are losing," he said.

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

EQUALITY INITIATIVES 'NOT WORKING'

Gay and lesbian academics and university administrators suffer a high level of bullying and harassment in the workplace, according to the research by Jeff Frank.

Although 46 per cent of lesbian staff who responded to the Association of University Teachers' survey of 800 academics and administrators said they were "out", 36 per cent said they had been bullied or harassed by colleagues in the past five years.

One in six gay male respondents described themselves as "out", and 29 per cent said they had been bullied or harassed.

Professor Frank said the results appeared to indicate that equality initiatives in higher education were not working.

He said: "These levels of harassment and bullying seem surprisingly high for a university environment. My view is that this is evidence that anti-discrimination measures in our universities have had remarkably little impact."

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