• Emily Rose Seeber

The Gender Pay Gap in Education


There has been lots of talk so far this month about the Gender Pay Gap. On the 1st April, all organisations that employ over 250 individuals were required to publish their mean and median hourly pay gaps between men and women, and the results have been staggering.

The Economist's article on the gender pay gap argues that the two traditional narratives about the gender pay gap, are both flawed. These are usually given as:

  • the workplace is sexist and discriminatory

  • the proportion of men in senior roles explains the gap adequately

Although I agree that these are oversimplifications of the problems that women face in employment in the UK, they both have their roots in real issues in employment practices across all sectors, and in education in particular.

The education reports

The education sector, which has traditionally been associated with providing professional employment for women, has hardly got away unscathed by the reports. Helen Ward's article in TES highlights that schools are a microcosm of society, and, as such, have vast pay gaps between teaching staff (with a greater gender balance) and support staff (who are more likely to be women).

A cursory glance through the data not only shows far more women than men in the lowest pay quartiles (support staff), but also that women are under-represented in the highest quartiles (senior management roles). But does this adequately account for the pay gap?

No. The Economist is right that this is a massive oversimplification. There are a number of relevant issues which need to be taken into account:

  • Discluding support staff leaves a significant pay gap

  • Senior roles are harder for women to balance with family commitments

  • Recruitment practices for senior roles is discriminatory

I take each of these in turn.

Adjustments to take account of support staff

Once we look just at teaching staff, the gaps get smaller. In secondary education the gender pay gap is 4.8% across all teachers. (The gaps are significantly smaller in primary.)

But, if we select for part time teachers only, which women form the vast majority of, they are getting a very raw deal:

The interesting point about the pay gap in part time work, is that, in the main, this discludes all senior roles, which cannot be undertaken on a part-time basis. This reveals a significant amount of pay discrimination within the same category of employment. And in all likelihood, points to systematic discrimination against working mothers.

So removing support staff doesn't account for the pay gap, but differences in the proportion of women in senior roles may still go a long way to explaining the reports. Let's see...

The patriarchy has designed the top jobs

Senior roles in schools often involve incredibly long working hours, under extraordinary amounts of pressure. There is a large gap between the official workload in these roles and the expectations (which are already ridiculous) of senior managers.

While a teaching tole has traditionally been considered to be a good job for a working mother to balance with having children - she is on holiday at the same times, gets home from work at the same time to take care of them, et cetera - SMT jobs do not fall into the same category. They have been structured for the traditional 1950s working man, with long hours and high stress, with a wife ready at home with dinner on the table.

Of course we are no longer in the 1950s. But women still take on 40% more housework than men, so patriarchal expectations are alive and well. they still take on the majority of childcare too. Which makes it difficult for women, and mothers in particular, to think of applying for promotions to senior roles. Particularly if their partner (male or female) is in a job which has been designed for a 1950s husband, who will struggle to take on a fair share of the unpaid household work.

So, while the proportion of men in the top jobs goes a significant way to explaining the pay gap, we need to ruthlessly examine what we can do about it.

And, remember, this state is just as discriminatory towards men, who feel under a societal pressure to provide for their families by seeking promotion designed for 1950s men they no longer wish to be.

Many of the necessary changes traverse all areas of society. And I don't propose to go into the strategies I see as appropriate for this to happen. So what could the education sector do to make the top jobs more gender-neutral?

One radical solution would be to close the gap between SMT and middle management, and between middle management and teaching staff, by dividing roles and responsibilities more equitably, and pay as well. In this way the 1950s gender gap between types of roles within schools would simply disappear.

The "women don't apply" excuse

I don't propose to say much here, as many of the reasons why women don't apply are tied in to my analysis in the previous section. But I think there is another reason why women are less likely to apply for promotions in schools which would be incredibly easy to change.

Have you ever read one of the job descriptions for a senior role?

  • The candidate will have the following essential qualities... followed by a list of totally unrealistic expectations.

  • the candidate will have the following desirable qualities... followed by an even more ridiculous list.

I have a serious problem with these lists. Teaching roles have moved away from them to a much more vague explanation of what the role entails. But they are ubiquitous in senior positions. And I think this leads to a skew in applicants across the genders.

Women, and I believe that this is because they have faced years of society telling them they cannot lead, tend to look down those lists and think "I've never had the opportunity to do that; that means I'm not qualified for the role, so I'd better not apply". Whereas men look down those lists with a much more rose-tinted outlook "I've done something pretty similar to that, and I've done a bit of that so that's probably okay...".

As a result, women don't put themselves forward unless they perfectly match the extremely idealised list on the advert, and men tend to apply if they deem themselves an acceptable fit. And when a man gets appointed who doesn't have all those qualities, no-one bats an eyelid, because everyone in-the-know knows that those lists are totally unrealistic.

Of course, there are many other issues: maternity provision, flexible working hours, and all sorts of other solutions which are much discussed in the gender pay gap debate. But as these traverse sectors, I do not intend to add anything further. However, I do think they are extremely important, and need to be tackled on a national level.

Next steps...

I'm now keen to see the synthesis data for a number of other relevant areas within the education sector:

  • Is there a difference in gender pay gap between independent and maintained sector schools?

  • Is there a difference in gender pay gap between mixed and single-sex schools? (I would anticipate a significant bias towards the sex of the students.)

  • Is there a difference in gender pay gap between boarding and day schools? (My hunch is that the longer working hours at boarding schools will increase the pay gap.)

Hopefully we'll soon have access to this sort of data. And it'll get employers thinking about their patriarchal job descriptions and discriminatory recruitment policies.

So, my slightly less radical solution to the gender role gap in education, is to look into gender-neutral advertising for all roles in schools. I don't think schools are likely to dissolve their 1950s management structures for the 21st century any time soon. But they could use current cognitive research, which is used all the time in other areas of education, to reinvent their recruitment practices.

Schools need to be beacons for gender equality if society is to become more equitable: it is in schools that students' beliefs about gender roles and responsibilities are formed. And I'm pretty sure that my students will be disgusted with the data.

#education #equality #gender #leadership

© 2017 by Emily Rose Seeber.