Committing to change
I was in West Bromwich on Friday night for the football match. Quite appropriate really, as we are announcing our honorary graduands for the January degree ceremonies, one of which is the West Bromwich Albion great, Brendon Batson. A man of enormous footballing talent. More importantly, a man who has fought against racism his whole life with dignity and determination. The first black footballer to play for Arsenal, he went on to be one of the three superstar black footballers for the Albion at a time when Britain was an obviously racist place. He tells his own tale of being attacked, verbally and physically, because of his skin colour. As a child as well as a man. He tells of bananas being thrown onto the football pitch at black players to symbolise the rejection of their humanity. How things have changed. Half the Aston Villa team on Friday night was non-white. When my club won the European Cup over thirty five years ago, none of the players were black. Brendon has been at the forefront of that change, leading the ‘Kick it Out’ campaign.
Then again, that things have changed does not mean that they have all changed for the better. Bananas are rarely thrown at footballers now. But racist abuse has been written on bananas at this university in recent times. Our own students tell how other of our own students have made ‘monkey noises’ at them. And since the European referendum, a minority have used Brexit to again bring back racist language and in some cases, even attacks. Racist language has become more audible. We are undoubtedly going to be obliged to host a racist speaker on our campus, invited by members of the university, at some point in the future, because of our absolute legal responsibility to allow freedom of speech. Racist words weigh more heavily on their targets than on others.
This reality is important when we consider issues such as the BBC report on Friday that white academic staff at this university are paid more than non-white. We do have real issues to address, that I will discuss in a moment. But this report stems from a simple, and profoundly incorrect and damaging analysis. From freedom of information requests, the BBC created some calculations. They should simply have asked the question. The issue is around pay gaps. This is different to equal pay, where two people must be paid on the same scale for the same work. Pay gaps focuses on categories of people. This year the government introduced a gender pay gap reporting requirement. Warwick has one of the highest. This reflects some deeper truths. If you divide the 6600 staff at the university into quarter according to pay, two thirds of lowest paid colleagues are women (partly this is also a reflection that we do not outsource important work such as cleaning). If we look across our top level, grade 9, professorial equivalent, only one in five is a woman.
Using the same methodology, we can see that there is a gap of 15.5% for academic staff pay, and a gap 6.9% if looking at all of our staff. Again, it is important to remember that this is not an equal pay measure; rather a measure of who is where in the organisation concerned. For us, there are two deeper truths. First we have too few non-white colleagues at professorial equivalent level; currently around one in ten. Second, on the academic side, we have significant numbers of non-white staff paid at lower levels. But this is in fact good news. If we agree that we want to have a more representative professoriate, we need an active ‘pipeline’ of staff. Currently, 28 per cent of our early career researchers is non-white. Working with those colleagues, supporting and encouraging, what an extraordinary difference those colleagues will make to the look and feel of this university over the next ten years.
Brendon Batson has shown how to combat racism by his own career and actions; and so it is a great moment to be able to honour him. And to take that inspiration both to combat racism and the structural inequalities of our world.