A number of you will shortly be entering the world of work, either permanently or for the rapidly approaching summer break. Unless you’re joining the small and growing army of unpaid interns and work experience drones, you will presumably be rewarded with some level of pay. It is fair to assume that you expect to be paid the same as any other person, providing they’re performing the same task as yourself. You live in a liberal society, and this is your legitimate expectation to basic equality.
Bear with me a moment as we consider the hypothetical: the bad news is that you’re not going to get paid the same. You will later discover that those sharing the same differences from the rest of the workforce as yourself are receiving the same unfair treatment. Frustrated? So are a number of people at the University, as it transpires Heslington Hall is knee deep in similar kinds of practice.
While it is not quite as immediately simple as this due to the numerous pay grades and roles at the University, once they are put into perspective it is perhaps all the more linear; the majority of the lowest bracket of pay are women, the majority of the highest bracket are men. Clearly, promotion and hiring is considerably biased towards men at this University.
There is very little argument in my mind against fighting this; gender is an arbitrary feature that you are born with, that in no sense dictates your practices, your abilitities and talents, or even your intentions on how to live life. Just because you are female, that does not mean you are going to be family focused. Expectations of lower wages for women must surely be demoralising and work against academic standards.
Of little consolation to women at the University is that the gender pay gap is not a conspiracy from Heslington Hall but an institutional problem of society. When the ‘New Politics’ coalition can muster up only four women to sit at the cabinet table, and the unelected member of this rare group of female ministers is also the only ethnic minority representative there, it is unsurprising that the University, despite its best efforts, has failed to overcome a bias towards men in academia.
Indeed, it has at least tried. The Athena Swan Gold award for the Chemistry Department is impressive; it indicates a commitment to improving standards of gender equality, but this is hardly enough to satisfy women expected to work for the University knowing they would likely receive more for the same amount of work if they were male.
Justifying the status quo with the argument that there is a clash between the competing demands of academia and being female is illiberal.
A ‘long hours’ culture should not discriminate against women. If the needs of dependent families are to be met then better access should be provided by the University to childcare facilities.
Simultaneously we must consider the national institutional bias against the female role in family care. Men should be encouraged to take responsibility for raising families through positive legislation, offering them rights to take paternity leave for as long as women are able to. This does not mean they get double the leave between them but simply the right to decide how it is divided. It is unreasonable to expect all organisations to immediately adopt equal career expectations of employees while one is incentivised over the other.
We cannot allow ourselves to grow complacent with current efforts to close the gender gap. The numbers are in, and they are still unacceptable. Our national bias against women in the workplace must change.