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Gender matters

The University’s 2017 statutory Gender Pay Gap return revealed mean and median pay gaps of +20.2% and +17.4 % respectively. This gap between men’s and women’s pay is wider than that found across the UK economy as a whole or the wider HE sector. Women account for 42 % of our academic workforce, yet they continue to be over-represented in more junior roles, and the recent Equal Pay Review and Gender Pay Gap return suggest the persistence of a ‘glass ceiling’ or promotion bar for women at the University. The senior management have suggested that women have done so well in past promotion rounds that the University has “exhausted female talent pools for promotion” (Equal Pay Review 2017 p.13) and this is why so few women are moving into the upper pay grades. UCU contests this. We think that presenteeism and a long hours culture at the University creates the perception that senior roles require 24/7 working, which may be more possible for many male staff. This deters women from applying for promotion. We are also aware that women continue to be over-represented in educational, administrative, and pastoral support roles that, while essential to the running of the University, are often regarded by senior managers as less valuable than other roles dominated by men. This means that women do not get considered for promotion. Moreover, the clustering of women in part-time roles and on casualised, fixed term contracts exacerbates gender inequalities.

UCU has been pushing the senior management to take action to address gender, (and disability and ethnicity) inequalities at this University. There is now a wealth of evidence that gender biases are highly problematic in the world of education and that women are held back by unconscious biases. We have suggested that more ‘hidden bias’ training is required for all staff who sit on promotions panels or manage staff. We have also continually pointed out that Module Evaluation Questionnaires and other student evaluations are subject to gendered biases and should not be used in promotion or disciplinary proceedings – yet we know that they continue to be used in these ways. At our most recent Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) we asked that senior managers cease using student evaluations in standard university CVs and appraisal – we await a response. We have also asked the senior managers to cease bell curve moderation of appraisals as this is known to be susceptible to gender=based discrimination and we believe this entrenches the gender pay gap.

One pernicious barrier to the advancement of women at this University is the lack of very senior role models and the continued over-representation of white men at the apex of the organisation. Four top senior management roles – President, Vice-President Research, Vice-President Education and COO – are all white men. We have recently added a female Vice-President International, and another for Internal Partnerships, but many believe that the real power rests with the roles currently occupied by men. If we look outside this University, it is depressing to see that only 26% of university vice-chancellors and principals are female. There are even greater challenges for our Black and ethnic colleagues. Last year the  Guardian reported that our Universities “employ more black staff as cleaners, receptionists or porters than as lecturers or professors”.  Professor Kalwant Bhopal, author of White Privilege: The Myth of Post-racial Society has continually pointed out how Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities – are marginalised – especially in Higher Education. She says “I think that universities – particularly elite universities – are not really interested in this issue because they want to perpetuate their own image of white privilege and whiteness.”

In recent years, our members have alerted the senior management to a number of public facing and outreach events, such as distinguished lectures, expert panels and presentations that have failed to include a single woman. Whilst we were happy that a recent issue of the in-house re:action magazine focussed on women, we believe that much greater efforts to represent diversity are needed. One particular University space where the representation of women needs to be addressed is our Senate room. In a University that seeks to be diverse many of us question the dominance of men in the artworks there. Alongside the Rothenstein mural which has been the subject of recent controversy, this room displays portraits of our previous Vice Chancellors. The sole woman represented is Dame Helen Alexander the former Chancellor. The continued resistance of senior management to suggestions that this room and other spaces in our University should contain images that better reflect our diverse community is indicative of the progress that should be made. These are just symbols, but symbols matter. Southampton UCU will continue to press for meaningful action to close the gender pay gap.

 

*the last two sentences of this blog were edited on 27/11/18 because, you know, we are a collective, a union, and we think and talk about stuff to make it better.

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