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Identifying the Perceived Causes of the HEI Sector’s Gender Pay Gap

30 May 2018 | Dr James Dawkins In April 2017 the government introduced new legislation which made it a legal requirement for every business and organisation employing over 250 members of staff to record and submit a series of summary metrics (mean, median and quartile ranges of hourly pay) that indicate their overall gender pay gap.
Figure 1. Most frequent explanations for gender pay gaps in English HEIs 

In April 2017 the government introduced new legislation which made it a legal requirement for every business and organisation employing over 250 members of staff to record and submit a series of summary metrics (mean, median and quartile ranges of hourly pay) that indicate their overall gender pay gap. In addition to this information, organisations were also encouraged to provide narrative reports detailing the possible factors contributing to their pay gaps and the current measures in place, if any, to narrow this disparity.

Advance HE is currently analysing the reports submitted by 121 English Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) who provided narratives by the official deadline of 31st March 2018, which was set for organisations where public sector regulations apply. This blog offers an initial glance at our research on the gender pay gap that exists within the sector by identifying the three most frequently mentioned explanations for pay discrepancies contained within the submitted narratives (see Figure 1). These findings form part of Advance HE’s broader study on the gender pay gap in English Higher Education which is due to be published in June 2018.

The most common explanation for the gender pay gap listed in 83% of narratives was a discrepancy in the contract levels of male and female staff. More specifically, HEIs reported that an over representation of male staff in senior contract levels (eg Vice Chancellor, Heads of Schools or Faculties and Professors) alongside an over representation of female staff in early career posts (eg Research Associates, Lecturers and Teaching Fellows) was the underlying cause of their gender pay gap. In line with other research examining these summary metrics (IPPR 2018), we labelled this disproportionate representation across contract levels ‘vertical occupational segregation’. HEIs mentioned a similar over representation of female staff in casual, manual and student employees (eg Administrators, Cleaners, Student Ambassadors, etc) in 17% of narratives, making this the second most frequently cited explanation for the gender pay gap. Finally, 11% of HEIs mentioned that a greater proportion of female staff were on part-time contracts, and this discrepancy underpinned the gap between the mean and median hourly pay of male and female staff in their institution.

Although an overwhelming proportion of English HEIs cited vertical occupational segregation as the issue underlying their own gender pay gaps, the variety of other explanations offered by HEIs indicates that this is clearly a complicated issue. Advance HE’s forthcoming Research Insight will explore the overarching themes within which these common explanations sit in greater detail.

If you have any queries about our interim findings please contact Dr James Dawkins at james.dawkins@advance-he.ac.uk.

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