A response to UWE gender pay gap reporting: looking at Bristol Business School

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By the researchers of the ‘Earnings gaps and inequality at work’ project, BBS

In compliance with new UK legislation, UWE Bristol published its own gender pay gap report in March 2018. Whilst recognising the need to do more to close the pay gap between women and men, that UWE achieved a gender pay gap of 13.15% has been portrayed as a sign of progress. The UWE figure is lower than the national average of 18.1% (ONS 2016)[1] and has decreased by 4.85 percentage points since 2003.[2] But if the current rate of progress is anything to go by it will be another 40 years  before the gender pay gap at UWE is closed. In Bristol Business School[3] (BBS), 67% of academic staff at lecturer level and 53% at senior lecturer level are women compared with 44% and 43% at associate professor and professor levels respectively. That women are overrepresented at lower grades is not a sign of real progress, but rather that women struggle through career progression. It is then crucial to better understand what explains the gender pay gap and what actions are necessary to tackle gender discrimination at work.








Within academia, gender gaps manifest for various reasons including slower progression paths (Krefting 2003; Holiday et al. 2014; Winslow and Davis 2016). In BBS, women are well represented at the executive and management levels which might indicate specific barriers against academic promotion such as from senior lecturer to associate professor and above. A recent Times Higher Education article highlighted that one in three UK universities are going backwards on female professorships. Studies have also revealed discrimination in academic publishing. Women are less likely to push for first authorship when collaborating with men, and women authored articles face higher levels of scrutiny in the peer review processes (West et al. 2013; Hengel 2017).  Women tend to apply for fewer external grants, although their success rate tends to be higher. In addition, women face disproportionate burdens in relation to career progression once they have children.  Female academics face a motherhood citation penalty whilst having children appears to advantage men’s career progression. A recent study in the US showed that men with children were 35 percent more likely than women with young children to secure tenure-track positions. Men with children are also 2 percent more likely to secure these positions compared with women without children (Mason et al. 2013). There is quite some variation across disciplines in terms of gender discrimination with economics being particularly bad in terms of apparent gender imbalances in student enrolment and all the way through in academic careers (Ginter and Khan 2004; Goldin 2013; Tonin and Wahba 2014; Crawford et al. 2018).

The Gender Pay Gap is not about Equal Pay

The gender pay gap captures some of the outcomes of discrimination – for example, wage inequality, job segregation and differential progression – but it obscures others. More importantly, it tells almost nothing about the complex mechanisms via which societal norms, class, power relations, institutional structures, workplace practices, legislation, and individual attributes interact and reinforce gendered, as well as other types of discrimination. As explained in this Guardian’s video, the gender pay gap data does not reveal anything about equal pay, which is whether women and men are paid equally for the same type of job. Furthermore, research has shown that  the allocation of workload, autonomy over one’s time use, the burden of pastoral care, and  physical and emotional conditions of work are on average worse for women compared to male colleagues (Holliday et al. 2014; Stier and Yaish 2014). Even the ways in which women are assessed on the quality of their work are highly discriminatory. Women experience substantial negative bias in students’ assessments.  Women in academia operate under workplace conditions that are stacked against them.

Inequality and mental health

There is increased understanding that inequalities within societies worsen mental health outcomes for oppressed groups. In relation to women’s mental health, there has been a tendency to pathologise the ways in which women individually deal with abuse or oppression rather than recognising the structural or societal causes. For example, the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BDP) is applied predominantly to women whilst many of the traits associated with the diagnosis fit closely with gender based abuse and trauma. Men with similar manifestations of mental health outcomes are more likely to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorders that recognise the underlying cause (Shaw and Proctor 2005).

The unequal burden of domestic work that academic women shoulder also takes its toll on mental health. The publish or perish dictum for academic progression together with growing administrative and teaching loads mean that women struggle more to put in the ‘extra hours’ in the evening or at weekends for research expected in academia today. Fagan et al. (2011) reviewed international evidence on working time arrangements on work-life ‘balance’ and discovered that paid employment increases the well-being of women, but those who work long hours in paid employment while retaining primary responsibility for domestic tasks at home are at particular risk of poorer mental health. A study using data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) found that working hours over 49 hours a week was associated with poorer mental health for women, but not men. We would expect the effects to be intensified for women with small children. UWE’s commitment to ‘mental wealth’ means that our institution has to take the issue of workloads seriously for all, but particularly for women.

What can be done?

What is to be done? Some think the women’s behaviour change is what is needed to close the gender pay gap. For example, women need to be more assertive in demanding pay rises and promotion. Within BBS, a number of women have received support in the form of coaching to help identify goals, strategies and behaviours that would most support their achievement. UWE has established programmes in women’s leadership and there is a “women in research” mentorship programme with a high take up. There are also numerous self-help groups online and many of us form small communities of care, nurture and peer support and collaboration. Whilst these initiatives are important and help women to identify coping mechanisms and navigate the system, they do nothing to challenge the institutional structures stacked against them.  What is needed is better institutional provisions to ameliorate the disproportionate burdens faced by women which could begin with making sure that women are pushed to apply for every opportunity for internal research support open to them; additional provision for early career women academics; support for women returning from maternity leave in order to catch-up on research; better maternity leave provision (with 6 weeks full pay followed by 12 weeks of half pay, UWE is amongst the least generous in UK HEIs); expanding the number of AP positions and reversing the balance of gender representation to ensure parity is reached at the professorial level in the next 5-10 years; and training on gender issues to all staff.

But more than this, we need to better understand how various forms of inequality – gender, race, class, disability, citizenship status, and religion – place workers in conditions of particular vulnerability in the workplace. This blog has focused on women academics, but many of our colleagues provide critical support for the functioning of the university in the form of admin, student support, cleaning and catering. UWE’s gender pay gap reporting does not paint a rosy picture for women and, in addition, a much deeper understanding of inequality at work is clearly needed. It is positive that BBS has taken the lead under the championing of Donna Whitehead, who is committed to the promotion of women and minorities. With the support of the faculty, a number of us are embarking on innovative research on this topic in order to strengthen UWE’s Inclusivity 2020 strategy and commitment to implementing necessary actions. We hope that in this way BBS and UWE could become the drivers of change in the sector.

A group of us in Economics have received internal funding to kick off a research project on Earning Gaps and Inequality at Work. We are interested in developing a multi-method approach to study quantitative and qualitative aspects of inequality at work. As part of this project, an expert workshop to discuss if and how we should look beyond the (gender) pay gap to understand inequality in the workplace will be held on 25th May 2018 at UWE. External participants with expertise on these themes will also be interviewed and a podcast series on inequality at work will be launched at the beginning of the new academic year.


Crawford, Claire; Neil M Davies, & Sarah Smith (2018). Why do so few women study economics? Evidence from England, available at http://www.res.org.uk/SpringboardWebApp/userfiles/res/file/Womens%20Committee/Publications/why%20do%20so%20few%20women%20study%20economics,%202018.pdf

Fagan, C., Lyonette, C., Smith, M. and Saldana-Tejeda, A. 2011. The influence of working time arrangements on work-life integration or ‘balance’: A review of the international evidence. Conditions of Work and Employment Series No. 32. Geneva: ILO.

Ginther, D. K., & Kahn, S. (2004). Women in economics: moving up or falling off the academic career ladder?. The Journal of Economic Perspectives18(3), 193-214.

Goldin C. (2013). Notes on Women and the Undergraduate Economics Major. CSWEP Newsletter. (Summer) :4-6, 15.

Hengel, E. (2017). Publishing while Female. Are women held to higher standards? Evidence from peer review. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.17548

Holliday, E. B., Jagsi, R., Wilson, L. D., Choi, M., Thomas Jr, C. R., & Fuller, C. D. (2014). Gender differences in publication productivity, academic position, career duration and funding among US academic radiation oncology faculty. Academic medicine: journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges89(5), 767.

Krefting, L. A. (2003). Intertwined discourses of merit and gender: Evidence from academic employment in the USA. Gender, Work & Organization10(2), 260-278.

Liff, S., & Ward, K. (2001). Distorted views through the glass ceiling: the construction of women’s understandings of promotion and senior management positions. Gender, Work & Organization8(1), 19-36.

Mason, M.A., Wolfinger, N.H. and Goulden, M., (2013). Do babies matter?: Gender and family in the ivory tower. Rutgers University Press.

Shaw, C. and Proctor, G. (2005). I. Women at the margins: A critique of the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Feminism & Psychology, 15(4), pp.483-490.

Stier, H., & Yaish, M. (2014). Occupational segregation and gender inequality in job quality: a multi-level approach. Work, employment and society28(2), 225-246.

Tonin, M., & Wahba, J. (2014). The sources of the gender gap in economics enrolment. CESifo Economic Studies, IZA DP No. 8414.West, J. D., Jacquet, J., King, M. M., Correll, S. J., & Bergstrom, C. T. (2013). The role of gender in scholarly authorship. PloS one8(7), e66212.

Winslow, S., & Davis, S. N. (2016). Gender inequality across the academic life course. Sociology Compass10(5), 404-416.


[1] The average for higher education institutions is 15.9%, lower than the national average, as outlined in this Time Higher Education article.

[2] The rate of progress in closing the gender pay gap has been much more substantial in other higher education institutions, such as Sheffield University, where the gender pay gap reduced from32.2% in 2003 to 15.2% in 2017 – see Sheffield reporting here.

[3] Figures for gender distribution across academic grades have been put together from information available on the UWE website and may not be up to date. All personnel in management positions were counted as senior lecturers unless otherwise stated in their online staff profile.

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