Money, Gender and Education

By Isabel Hume, BESA intern

Final figures of the gender pay gap have now been released to the public and the results are troubling.

The government asked that any company with over 250 employees report the mean and median percentage difference of hourly rates for their male and female staff members. This information was then compared across the UK. Out of the 10,000+ companies asked to submit their gender pay gap data, the median pay gap is of 9.7%.

Amongst the cloud of outrage, distress and confusion around these disappointing figures, we are allowed to wonder how such numbers are possible in the progressive society we live in today.

Prime Minister Theresa May has touched upon the topic in the Daily Telegraph, stating that the existing pay gap is one of the “burning injustices which mar our society”.

However, wages between men and women are not a black and white question. Many factors come into play, but they seem to have been overlooked in the figures, which do not show whether it is part-time or full-time work, the levels of experience and education, or even age.

Without considering these elements of the data and breaking down the statistics into like-for-like jobs, it is difficult to get a real image of the situation.

For example, the education sector has been said to be one of the worst sectors for pay equality in the UK. With an average pay gap of 25% in favour of men, 78% of companies in the education sector are said to favour men and only 13% favour women.

As of early March 2018, out of the top 50 organisations with the most noticeable gender wage gaps in the education sector, 23 of those were schools or multi-academy trusts.

Since these institutions are largely dominated by women, we could expect to see equal pay for female staff members, or even a gender pay gap in favour of women.

When this information is picked apart, however, it is clear that the situation is more nuanced than that.

For one, a university principal described the gender pay gap as a result of women having a “natural tendency” not to put themselves up for promotion.

This would be a side effect of “imposter syndrome”, an affliction many women are said to be dampened with, resulting in the creation of a “self-imposed glass ceiling” preventing them from striving for success.


But is this really the reason behind all the numbers? Are women simply too shy to break down the pay gap? Or are there other explanations for the figures?

Luke Menzies, a law specialist, director, barrister and solicitor at Menzies Law, believes that the Russell Group and Oxbridge universities are probably the guilty ones, making up the average of the 25% gender wage gap within education.

In sectors predominantly female, such as education, nursing or women’s clothing companies, the statistics are expected to convey a largely misleading gender wage gap as women are employed in most of the pay quartiles.

This means women likely dominate the higher-paid jobs, but they dominate the lower-paid jobs, too. Their male co-workers end up taking up a small percentage in the top-end jobs, leading to a large gender wage gap within the company, even though that may not be the case.

It’s also important to consider the amount of work itself that men and women do. Women are still more responsible than men to have to balance a child and a career, and that can dramatically affect the number of hours and days that they work, directly impacting their salary.

And although men in the UK have had the choice to take paid paternity leave since 2003, they rarely take as much as the mother.

Working full-time or part-time, in a low- or high-positioned job, taking leave, can make a difference to a person’s pay.

But these factors are not considered in the released pay gap data we’re all dwelling over. Because of this overlook, the way we are reading these statistics is misleading and inaccurate.

This blog is one in a series of occasional education think-pieces by BESA members and staff, which are designed to stimulate ideas and discussion, and do not necessarily reflect the views of BESA. If you would like to write a blog for the BESA website, contact comms@besa.org.uk.