Women: like men, only cheaper

by Vivienne Porritt @ViviennePorritt 


What’s the issue?

Equal Pay Day this year is 14th November.  From this day, most women are working for nothing because they earn less than men: the most recent statistics show the mean gap for full time workers is 13.1%. The gap is wider for part-time employees.  Women earn less than men in 90% of all employment sectors.

British women are paid a fifth less than men, on average, which equates to women earning approximately 80p per £1 than a man earns. Even in female dominated professions, the salary gap emerges: men earn more than women on average, especially in leadership roles. 42% of UK women work PT compared to 12% of men with all the subsequent pension issues in later life which raises more significant issues.

Mothers in the UK earn, on average, 4% less after each child and fathers’ salaries increase by an average of 6% – the so-called motherhood penalty and fatherhood bonus.

An important source is the 2012 double blind study where male and female university staff, looking to hire a laboratory manager, rated identical CVs, one from John and one from Jennifer. You know the outcome. John was hired by more people and offered a higher starting salary than Jennifer. It’s a complex issue: an excellent Freakonomics podcast and transcript highlights this. To me, it boils down to this excellent question asked by Barack Obama in January 2016: What kind of example does paying women less set for our sons and daughters?

What’s behind this issue?
There have been improvements. Women aged 22-39 working more than 30 hours a week now earn more than men on average but it goes downhill from there. One reason for this may be that women don't negotiate salaries as much as men do. Men are 4 times as likely as women to negotiate their first salary offer. From cars and holidays to salaries, women don’t ask for what they are worth and don't like negotiating, likening it to going to the dentist whereas men liken it to wrestling! Edudatalab highlighted the outcomes for FULL-TIME women leaders in schools because we lack the #confidence to ask and negotiate. With performance related pay for all, it will get worse.

GPG Data lab

So even in a profession which has, as Russell Hobby when at National Association of Head Teachers, said, ‘one of the largest density of female chief executives in the country’, full time women leaders are paid less. We must challenge and change this.

Individual Solutions 
Women need to apply for leadership roles. A McKinsey report highlighted that the most powerful force holding women back is entrenched beliefs. These include the unconscious or conscious bias of both male and female managers and women’s own self-limiting beliefs. 22% of women (cf to 13%of men) don’t want to fail so more women than men don’t apply for jobs if they don’t meet all the criteria. Women need to take the risk and apply for more leadership roles than they currently do and so learn from the feedback. One belief most women hold is that practice makes perfect so take advantage of that and get applying!

We also need to ask for the salary we deserve in a new role or through performance related pay. It’s important that all women in education know this is possible and, indeed, organisations expect it. A Harvard Business Review article titled ‘ Nice Girls Don’t Ask’ offers useful advice about why we find this hard and how to improve. More advice is available from the website Take the Lead and I wrote an article for tes explaining how to neogotiate for a higher salary.  If fear or lack of confidence or self-worth stops us, practice can improve this. What’s the worst that can happen? You can also seek development opportunities in how to have these conversations or ask your mentor for advice.

Systemic solutions
The above McKinsey report says only systemic change makes the real difference. Commitment from the top, diversity programmes and targeted behavioural change are not scalable and bursts of activity are not always sustainable.

It needs the transformation of culture, processes and practices to bring about change and such transformation is often driven by imperatives.

A powerful reason to change can be to retain the best talent and that’s a current and pressing need in education. An example of successful change in practices is that Google increased family leave from 3-5 months and made it fully paid leading to a 50% drop in mothers who left the company.

From March 2018, in England, all companies employing 250 employees must publish gender salary statistics, including all bonus payments. This includes academy chains and universities.

You can look up the gender pay gap of your organisation by typing their name here. Thanks, Gov.UK!  

If we need more than a moral motive, then education organisations must address this issue or be shamed. Governors and trustees of individual schools, academies, colleges and universities can start by asking for this information now.


I was #10%braver and negotiated my salary for the first time in my career when I moved to a university and I applied for salary increases at every stage after that, citing appropriate evidence and impact. It surprised some people and has always had a positive effect. I recommend this to every woman leader in education. You know you are worth it.

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