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  • Leeds Women in Leadership

Let’s talk about the Gender Pay Gap over coffee.

When first compulsory Gender Pay Gap reports in the UK went public in 2017, they were hardly surprising. The median earnings of men were higher by 18.4%, with the pay gap higher than 50% in some cases, including airlines, huge retailers and investment funds. University of Leeds reported a pay gap of 22.5% — which means that average earnings of a man at our university are that much higher than an average salary of a woman. But what do these numbers really tell us? Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t mean that men are paid a better salary for exactly the same job. It means that there is simply a much larger number of men in senior positions.

Of course we could assume that men are simply better qualified (I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard that argument), but there is another explanation. According to the Office of National Statistics, the gender pay gap widens massively after the age of 30 years. It’s not a coincidence — around that time more and more women who have children decide to choose part-time work, with an average hourly rate of just £9.36 compared to £14.31 in a full-time role. “But an opportunity to go part-time when you become a mother is one of our great achievements!” I hear you say. Well, not necessarily. While it’s great that parents can spend more time focusing on their children, most of the time it’s not parents who do that — it’s mothers. It’s so much more difficult to progress quickly in your career when you don’t spend as much time at work as your male colleagues, in addition to taking a pay cut. And even when new mothers come back to full-time jobs, that doesn’t mean that they’re not a primary caregiver and able to commit to overtime in order to show their dedication.

Don’t get me wrong, flexible and part-time working is great — but only if both parents fully use these opportunities. While shared parental leave was indeed introduced in 2015, only around 2% of couples decide to take it up. In the majority of cases it’s women who take an up to a year-long break in their careers. If it’s their personal decision, they are absolutely right to do it. But isn’t it weird that men wouldn’t want to spend a few months bonding with their new-born child? Often they do, but the societal pressure is as high on them as on women. Basically, men who choose to participate in shared parental leave and take time off work for longer than a few days or weeks, face the same discrimination that women got so used to. Being seen as not that committed, not that dedicated, not treating their career as a priority — not deserving a promotion and a raise.

That shows how gender pay gap is a problem for all of us: men would benefit from more gender equality and an ability to be a devoted parent, without the fear of being seen as weak and not a breadwinner. Young women wouldn’t be discriminated against in the workplace and would be able to progress into more senior — and well-paid — jobs, effectively closing the gender pay gap. While a stay-at-home mum brings as much value to the society as anyone else, it should only be a personal choice and not pressure from the society, an employer, or a partner. As progressive as we claim to be, we often assume that women possess some kind of ancient knowledge on how to raise a child. As a 22-year-old woman, I can assure you that I have absolutely no idea what to do with a baby and can’t imagine staying at home with a child for a year just because that’s my traditional role. Let’s give some credit to men — they are just as competent as parents!

Of course there are so many other reasons behind the gender pay gap, but at the university where 61% of students are female we deserve to look up to senior leaders of all genders and have a representation at every organisational level. No matter what every reason behind the gender pay gap is, 22.5% should not be a consequence.

To show you the gender pay gap in practice, Women in Leadership Society and Leeds University Union invite you to come down to Balcony in the LUU building on the 8th of March — the International Women’s Day, where self-identified women will get a 22.5% discount on all hot drinks. Tomorrow we’ll close the gender pay gap, today let’s have some coffee.

Joanna Blachnicka - Director of Campaigns 2018/19