Update: Cambridge University pay review reveals men are better off than female colleagues

Jenny Buckley 17 December 2012

The Equal Pay Review 2012 has revealed that female staff at the University of Cambridge are paid on average one fifth less than their male counterparts. The University’s review into pay equality has shown that there is a 23.4 percentage discrepancy between the salaries of men and women. This equates to men earning £8,675 per annum more than female colleagues with the same job description.

Discrepancies between men and women become more pronounced higher up the pay grade system. The Review reveals that 958 women are paid a wage which is grade eight or higher in contrast to 1870 men. Out of the University’s 611 employees who are in the top wage bracket, grade 12, only 101 are women. Whilst 11.3 per cent of male employees earn at this highest level, only 2.3 per cent of women belong to this grade.

The Review puts this discrepancy down to the fact that ‘a larger number of male employees in this grade receiv additional payments’ as a result of their research work. However, at this top level, the pay gap has been increasing, rising from 9 to 18.7 per cent.

The wage gap is most significant amongst members of academic staff, where women earn on average £8,540 per annum less than men. The Review states that ‘the key area of difference seems to be in Academic roles’ with 13.9 per cent of the pay gap originating in this sector.

Since the first Equal Pay Review in 2010, the University has been implementing a series of ‘actions’ to ensure that the payment system can be perceived as ‘fair and equitable’. This involves ‘a CV mentoring scheme’ to aid and support women seeking promotion to Senior Academic positions and ‘guidance for institutions’ to encourage the increased employment of women.

The findings of the review show that ‘over the last five years the University’s pay gap has fallen slowly by an average of 0.5% each year’, having fallen from a gap of 24 per cent in 2007. However, the review’s findings seem to suggest that pay equality, which is recognised as a legal right under both domestic and European law, has not been realised across the University.

UPDATE: Cambridge University’s Equal Pay Review

According to the European Commission’s Article 141 EC, ‘each Member State shall ensure and subsequently maintain the application of the principal that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work’.

However, exactly what constitutes equal ‘pay’ can prove difficult to define. Following a recent court case heard by the European Court of Justice, ‘Pay’ now includes not only the basic wage an individual receives, but also any ‘special bonuses paid by the employer’, travel expenses, overtime, and occupational pensions .

This Tuesday, Professor Robert Blackburn, Cambridge’s Emeritus Reader in Sociology, published a paper on ‘Occupational Gender Segregation in Industrial Countries’ which echoes the concerns of the review. Blackburn, speaking to Cambridge Research News, said that: ‘The pay inequality is less than assumed, though still too high… Progress has been slow.”

The University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) classes pay gaps of 5% and sectors in which gaps of 3% or higher consistently occur as having ‘significant’ inequality gaps. Out of the four groups of staff which form the focus of the Review (Academic, Academic-related, Academic-assistant, and Research) there is a ‘significant’ wage differentiation between men and women in every category except “Academic-assistants.”

Grade 12 non-clinical research staff form the only sector which exceeds the 5% pay gap, but at 18% the gender gap among these staff is striking. In addition to their regular salary, many Grade 12 research staff receive extensive bonuses and reimbursements. Though the basic wage for male and female staff is the same, when these bonuses are taken into consideration the pay gap increases dramatically. Over £2.1 million has been paid to research staff on top of their basic salaries. Out of those receiving these bonus payments, 58% are male and between them they received £1.6 million, nearly 77% of the total money given out.

In one respect, however, Cambridge is ahead of its contemporaries. According to the UCEA, the University is one of only 29 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to have carried out an Equal Pay Review in the last 18 months. We do not yet know the full extent of the wage gap at many other HEIs across the country. By carrying out an annual wage gap review to address the problem, the University is at least making some steps towards realising equal pay.

Jenny Buckley