Reece Parker: We need more women at the top

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For the first time in British legislative history, companies operating in the UK have been forced to disclose their gender pay gap, revealing a series of troubling results.

Nine out of ten public bodies were revealed to pay men more than woman, a trend which persisted across the higher education sphere.

Russell Group universities, a group of 24 elite universities who are famed for their commitment to research, were revealed to pay women less than men based on median hourly pay, with the University of Leeds no exception.

Leeds University have reported that their gender pay gap is 22.5%. They stress that “we have no significant equal pay gap between men and women doing the same job on our standard University salary scale”, drawing attention to the fact that there is “a higher proportion of men in our highest paid roles”.

This is a trend which can be perceived across all U.K higher education institutions, with women dominating early-career levels in academia but making up less than a quarter of all professors. The best method to tackle this issue is a point of contention for those who run universities.

Some feel that the issue is representative of a historical trend of men being steered towards research and leadership geared roles both in their early upbringing and in their academic careers, whilst women are pushed towards administrative and teaching roles.

They feel this ultimately means that men rise further through the higher education hierarchy. They interpret that this pay gap is the result of a ‘hangover’ from a previous generation, one which is the result of cultural gender differences. For those who believe this, they perceive that as we progress as a society, this inequality will slowly be levelled out, and therefore we must simply wait.

I feel that this school of thought grossly overlooks the impact that academia has in the structure of wider society. It is through academic research that we imagine the future, and explore how to ensure progress to a fairer society.

In order to maximise the possibility for this, we need to increase how many women are in the higher echelons of the university structure.

Their lived experience cannot be replicated, overruled, or sufficiently researched without their own involvement. It is necessary that we begin to realise this, and that we make distinct drives in funding and hiring policies to redress this balance.

According to research published by the University and College Union last year, closing the academic gender pay gap will take 40 years at the current place. This is unacceptable.

In a rapidly shifting society, representative voices are needed now more than ever.

Reece Parker is Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon at Leeds University.

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