Inside Track - Francesca Fowler: Understanding and acting upon our gender pay gap.

Francesca Fowler, Director of Human Resources, answers some key questions about our gender pay gap and how we are addressing it at Leeds.


Today, we have published the University’s Gender Pay Gap Report 2017. I’d like to take a moment to highlight the report to you and share more detail about how we are addressing our gender pay gap.

What is the gender pay gap? 

‘Gender pay gap’ refers to the average salary of all women employed by an organisation, compared to the average salary of all men employed by that organisation, in this case, the University.

Gender pay gaps are different from equal pay gaps, although this distinction is often confused. Equal pay data tells us whether there are differences in pay between men and women doing comparable work and those disparities typically indicate where action is required around pay practices. Gender pay gaps are more closely associated with a need to address an unequal distribution of men and women across the levels of an organisation. 

Our Gender Pay Gap Report 2017 sets out and explains our gender pay gap data from the period 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 and how we are working to eliminate the gap. 

What’s the gender pay gap at Leeds?

At the University of Leeds, our data demonstrates that, despite some progress, we still have significant work to do to eliminate our gender pay gap

There is no significant equal pay gap between men and women at the same grade on our standard salary scales, which cover more than 98% of our staff (and for the <2% we are reviewing the way we compare the unique roles at the top of our organisation to ensure we drive parity of pay).

Since 2010, our gender pay gap has reduced, and we have been working to eliminate it through actions monitored by our Equality and Inclusion Committee.

Our overall data shows:

  • an average (mean) gender pay gap of 22.5%
  • an average (mean) bonus pay gap of 8.9% (for bonuses awarded by the University)
  • an average (mean) bonus pay gap of 81.9% (when NHS Clinical Excellence Awards are included – see below).

Pages 5-7 of the report give further detail.

Why is this being published now?

We have been commissioning and publishing independent audits about equal pay and gender pay gaps since 2010, and these are available to view on the HR webpages.

Not all organisations have taken this proactive, transparent approach and so the Government has put in place some mandatory reporting for all relevant organisations with 250 or more employees. To align to the Government’s requirements, the way we collate and present our data has changed compared to our earlier reports, so some caution should be exercised when making comparisons.

Why do these gender and bonus pay gaps exist?

It’s important not to over-simplify the root causes and, therefore, the solutions to this problem. The gaps have not arisen overnight and will not be fixed overnight either. The truth is, many different actions must come together to produce a significant and ongoing reduction in our gender pay gap. 

The gender pay gap is a national - in fact, a global - issue and not one which is confined to the UK Higher Education (HE) sector, nor unique to us at Leeds. However, there are some trends across HE, which we do see illustrated by our own data: we do not have enough women in our most senior roles across the University, for instance.

In a nutshell, we have a high proportion of women in our lower quartile salary band and a low proportion of women in our higher quartile salary band (report page 5).

So, our actions will continue to be targeted at redressing that imbalance. We must attract, retain and progress higher numbers of talented women throughout our grades. 

Why is the bonus pay gap so high?

Some of our academic colleagues perform clinical duties for the NHS Trust. Through this important work, some of them have been awarded NHS Clinical Excellence Awards (CEA) for quality, excellence and impact, which are paid for from NHS funds. Including these CEA in our data leads to a significantly higher bonus pay gap than if we just look at University-awarded bonuses (81.9% compared to 8.9%). It is recognised by universities and the NHS (both nationally and locally) that more action is needed to improve the under-representation of women in senior clinical academic roles, including here at Leeds.

However, in our organisation, even if we put NHS CEA bonuses to one side, we still see a bonus pay gap, albeit significantly reduced. As these other types of bonus are often based on a percentage of salary, that gap exists largely due to the disproportionate distribution of women and men across the grades, throughout the University. As above, this under-representation of women is what drives many of our improvement action plans.

What is the University doing to make progress? 

Since 2010, we have seen the number and total proportion of women Professors and Associate Professors at Leeds increase, although there is much work still to do to achieve gender balance. The number of women in senior professional and managerial roles has been relatively stable since 2010, whereas the number and proportion of women at the next level of professional and managerial roles has increased. Page 3 of the report provides more detail.

Page 4 of the report summarises several of the steps we have already taken, for instance, developing our promotions process and criteria; providing services and policies to attract and retain those with caring responsibilities; and increasing the visibility of role models and support networks across the University. 

This progress has been underpinned by our Leeds Gender Initiative (LGI), the University’s strategic approach to gender equality and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in this ongoing work. Chaired by Professor Stephen Scott, Executive Dean of Mathematics and Physical Sciences as the academic lead for gender equality, the LGI oversees delivery of our gender action plan and our engagement with the higher education sector’s equality charter, Athena SWAN

As Athena SWAN has recently broadened its scope beyond Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine (STEM) subject areas (all of which at Leeds hold either Bronze or Silver awards), so too are we proactively progressing our work to include Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Business and Law. This applies to academic and non-academic staff. We are also widening our focus to pay attention to the representation and career progression of women from different backgrounds.

To close the gaps even further, we will work towards extending our examples of best practice to all areas of the University. We have several pilot initiatives in place within schools and faculties which we will review and evaluate for wider roll out. And I am establishing a dedicated group to oversee and champion our future actions at the highest level. We will continue to assess where we can make the most difference and our focus will include:

  • Creating a more even gender balance across all types of roles.
  • Attracting women to senior roles.
  • Identifying and nurturing potential.
  • Sharing learning across the organisation.
  • Attracting and retaining female clinical academics.

Page 8 of the report has further details.

As I mentioned earlier, improvement actions can take a long time to bear fruit. Positive, progressive actions today may not be evidenced in the reporting data for some time (the 2017 report we’ve just published represents 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017). We should even acknowledge that we might see our gender pay gap average increase in the short term: one or two changes at the most senior level (upper quartile salary band) could have a disproportionate impact on the reportable data, compared to many changes in the lower quartile. It will be important for us to continue to scrutinise the data and build on some of our early initiatives that are starting to show promise.

What can colleagues do to support this work? 

Whether as an individual, or through membership of a group, everyone can play a part in making progress at Leeds.

Several avenues exist at the University to keep us focused on gender equality and ensure that the voices of colleagues and trade union representatives are heard. These include: various developmental and support networks; the cross-institutional Athena SWAN Leads Group which shares best practice and helps guide our Athena SWAN self-assessments; and the oversight group which monitors delivery against our gender action plan. You can find out more about these groups and others on the Equality website.  

In addition, as part of the University’s overall governance, the Equality & Inclusion Committee assures our work towards equality and inclusion at a strategic level.

While we will continue to take our institutional role in this issue seriously, everyone has a part to play.  Some of us make decisions on a daily basis in areas which ultimately impact the gender pay gap – decisions about recruitment, flexible working and development opportunities, for instance. Others may not be responsible for those kind of decisions, but can still make a difference through their own actions.

Our Introduction to Equality and Inclusion module is a good reminder that we must all take ownership, and all colleagues should complete it. The module covers the type of behaviours that are expected of all members of our University community, information about equality law, and ways in which we support and promote equality and inclusion at Leeds. It also explains the potential impact of unconscious bias and ways that we can mitigate against it.

Thank you for reading and I will finish now by reiterating that today’s report does not signify the end of a process - we have much more work to do to eliminate our gender and bonus pay gap at Leeds and we remain committed to that goal. 

Francesca Fowler
Director of Human Resources

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