November 19, 2020

Pay Gap

Gender Pay Gap reporting was mandated in 2017, and in the university sector this reporting has encouraged clearer acknowledgement of inequalities, and has raised many questions about their source. Last autumn, blog posts from the Provost, the Director of Social Inclusion, and the Co-Chair of the Race Equality Task Force introduced and discussed the institution’s latest pay gap data. In the subsequent Pay Gap Report 2019, Warwick extended the reporting to include pay gap data for ethnicity and disability. As Chair of the Gender Task Force, I welcome this opportunity to consider the intersections of these protected characteristics. Although we have incomplete datasets (as staff disclosure of protected characteristics is voluntary), there is still work we can do at institutional level to determine where improvements to policy and process may deliver the most scope to reduce inequalities.

At Warwick, the gender pay gap - the difference in hourly pay between the total population of women in the workforce and the total population of men in the workforce - is substantial. It is clear that the institutional pay gap is driven to a significant extent by demographic differences across the grades, with 68% of staff in the lowest pay quartile being female, and 64% of the staff in the highest pay quartile being male. If we were to ignore demographics, and simply consider rates of pay for women and men at the lowest grades, then the hourly rates are close to equivalence. It would be easy to overlook the upper middle quartile for pay, where there is almost no demographic difference by gender (49% female, and 51% male), but the data show that the average hourly rates for Grade 7 and above are higher for men than for women. Recognizing that there is a salary spine within each grade, are there demographic profile differences within these grades? What if recent efforts to encourage gender diversity have resulted in a scenario where there are plenty of women entering the career pipeline at Warwick, and we just need to wait until they have had an opportunity to progress through the grades? In 2018, 21% of Warwick’s professors were female; this rose to 23.4% in 2019. Is it just a matter of time until the pay gap is eroded? I don’t believe it is this simple, as the demographic differences are long-standing, and because snapshots of a population at a single point in time do not tell us about career trajectories, about the rates at which employees progress in the sector. These trajectories may have a critical story to tell.

Is gender a significant factor in career progression? If so, why? The catalyst for the Athena SWAN Charter, and the rationale for its original focus on women in STEM, was the observation that for early career academics in STEM disciplines, taking maternity leave led to an irrevocable setback in their research career. It was a cause for concern, as the sector was losing exceptionally talented individuals as a consequence. An academic researcher needs to be visibly established and respected for the quality of their work in order to sustain and progress their career. They will benefit from giving seminars at leading institutions and presenting work at high profile conferences, from using international facilities, building networks, working at a range of institutions, and establishing leadership of a research group. Until recently the majority of research funders have determined academic career stage (and thereby eligibility for many highly competitive grant schemes), by the number of months and years elapsed since an individual gained their doctoral status. Historically, the sector has tended towards quantifying academic success in terms of publication volume and grant income, and to looking for evidence of recent impact, leaving little or no space to take (or to account for) career breaks. The metrics-based culture has dis-incentivized part-time working, making it untenable for many until they approach retirement. In recent years, with a growth in understanding about how Diversity and Inclusion can improve organizational performance, it has become easier for staff to discuss these issues openly. It has made it possible to question systems that disproportionately exclude groups with protected characteristics, to challenge practices that reduce the talent pool available to an organization.

Against this backdrop, I welcome the recent substantial changes to the academic promotion process at Warwick. Studies within, and external to, Warwick have shown that women are more likely than men to postpone applying for promotion until they are sure of success, and there is also evidence that women are disproportionately likely to take on (and retain) time-consuming roles requiring a high level of collegiality [1]. The move to a points-based promotion system, enabling individuals to self-evaluate prior to making an application, the permission to apply in successive years, and the opportunity to put forward evidence and showcase positive impact from the full spectrum of roles undertaken by academic staff, has enabled high performing staff with more diverse portfolios to progress. Such revision of the processes fundamental to career development and progression are a key step in reducing the pay gap for the long term.

Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, diversity issues that have scope to widen the pay gap have been accentuated. For example, surveys in the UK population identified significant disparities by gender for employment and caring responsibilities [2]. A study of impact in the wider community found that where women and men had equivalent jobs and shared parenting responsibilities, women in these households disproportionately absorbed childcare and home schooling responsibilities, continuing paid work for their employer, while more subject to frequent interruptions than men [3], resulting in extended working days and a highly fragmented working environment. Concerns surfacing in the academic community were highlighted by an article in May reporting a startling drop in research paper submissions from women, while there was a significant increase in submissions from men [4]. Warwick ran an institutional-level COVID Support Survey in July to obtain a quantitative and qualitative understanding of the challenges being faced by all staff, and to identify groups facing particular issues. Summary information from the survey was shared on Insite, and the findings are now being used by the central teams and by heads of department to better support staff as we go forward into an uncertain year.

Looking to the forthcoming academic promotion round in January 2021, we recognize that staff who intended to apply this year may be concerned that their case has been adversely impacted by exceptional challenges since the spring. We are therefore encouraging senior staff to volunteer as Promotion Advisors, to provide a point of contact for promotion candidates who will welcome additional support and guidance during the application process. This scheme has been developed over the summer; if you wish to be involved, please to contact the Provost Chris Ennew directly for further information. It is clear that many staff with protected characteristics have been particularly vulnerable to adversity arising from the COVID-19 situation, and the work we can do now to support colleagues will help mitigate the impact in our community.

Prof Jo Collingwood

Gender Task Force



[1] C. Guarino & V. Borden, Faculty Service Loads and Gender: Are Women Taking Care of the Academic Family? Res High Educ (2017) 58:672–694, DOI 10.1007/s11162-017-9454-2

[2] Fawcett Society Briefing, Parenting and Covid-19 – Research evidence, August 2020

[3] A. Andrew et. al. How are mothers and fathers balancing work and family under lockdown?’ IFS Briefing Note BN290, 2020,

[4] A. Fazackerley, Women's research plummets during lockdown - but articles from men increase, The Guardian, 12th May 2020

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