The recent publication of gender pay gap league tables in higher education shows not only the power of comparative figures, but also the pressure it can place on institutions with higher than average pay gaps. Private sector employers worried about publishing their gender pay gap and corresponding negative publicity will take little comfort in this report. 

According to the University and College Union report “Holding Down Women’s Pay” the average pay differential for a female academic female is £6,103. While over half of all academics are women, only 23% of professors are women, a pattern which is replicated when it comes to senior female positions outwith the higher education sector. 

One issue this report does illustrate is how different data sets can present a different impression (this in turn highlights the importance of providing a narrative to put any gender pay gap figures in context.) The last set of figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in November 2015 paints a much rosier picture of the gender pay gap in higher education. According to the ONS the gender pay gap reduced by 2.4% from the previous year to 11.1% which is considerably lower than the national average of 19.2%. 

The size of any higher education institution’s (HEI’S) gender pay gap will be placed under further scrutiny once the Government enacts the public sector equivalent of the Draft Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2016 (the UK Regulations). The current UK Regulations do not cover the public sector, but the Government has confirmed that they plan to introduce similar Regulations which will do so. This update is based on the assumption that the public sector Regulations will mirror the private sector version. 

The Scottish specific equality duties 

When it comes to reporting the gender pay gap, HEI’S in Scotland should in theory be in a stronger starting position than their private sector colleagues. As a result of the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012 (the specific duties) HEI’s have been obliged to publish their gender pay gap since 2013. 

In addition initiatives like the Athena Swan Charter and the Equality Challenge Unit’s (ECU’s) gender charter mark have raised awareness of female participation and rates of pay in Higher Education and the need to proactively address barriers in the workplace. 

While HEI’s therefore may appear to have a standing start on compliance with the future UK Regulations, unfortunately there are significant differences between the obligations contained within the specific duties and the UK Regulations. As such Scottish HEI’s will need to build on existing good practice and produce additional information to comply with the UK duty. 

The gender pay aspect of the specific duties is fairly basic in scope, requiring only a single average figure, which must be published every 2 years in contrast with the UK Regulations which contains a number of different metrics and should be published annually. 

Also, the specific duties go further than gender pay reporting by imposing additional requirements on employers to publish an equal pay statement every 4 years. Changes are afoot here too. Scottish HEI’s will have to deal with changes coming into force next year requiring them to provide additional information in their second equal pay statement. From April 2017 Scottish HEI’s must also provide information on the figures of employees who are disabled and those who fall into a minority racial group.

The UK Regulations 

The UK Regulations require private and voluntary sector employers with more than 250 staff to publish their gender pay gap figure for both pay and bonuses. Employers are not only required to provide a breakdown for the mean and median average pay figures, they are also obliged to report on bonuses issued. Although bonuses may seem to be the sole preserve of the private sector, there are a number of Universities which offer supplements or allowances which could be caught by the definition of bonuses. 

One requirement of the UK Regulations which differs from the requirement under the specific duties is the need to provide gender pay gap information by quartiles. Rather than stipulate that employers must publish information demonstrating a breakdown at grade level, employers will be required to report on the number of men and women in each quartile of their pay distribution. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, it means assessing the overall range of hourly rates paid to employees and creating four equal pay bands, with each band consisting of one quarter of the difference between the lowest and highest hourly rates. The UK Regulations state that employers should list the pay rates by referring to Band A through to D, and explaining how many women and how many men are in each band. 

For example, if an employer has 1000 employees, 416 men and 584 women with a salary range from £10 to £150 per hour the quartiles should be assessed by reference to the midpoint of the pay.

Click here to view table.

What is clear from all these changes is the urgent need to focus on steps which will reduce an organisation’s gender pay gap. Many HEI’s have already publicly committed themselves to narrowing their gender pay gap: a laudable aim but one which needs considerable planning and action by employers to avoid becoming empty rhetoric. The issue now comes into even sharper focus as a result of all the changes. There is an urgent need to take stock of where the HEI is in this process, and to assess what it needs to do to stay legally compliant. However equally important is the need to understand what picture will be painted of HEI’s progress on the major journey towards pay parity reporting under the revised regime in the not too distant future. With the UCU’s website, Rate for the Job providing advice on pay at different organisations, employees are better informed than ever before.