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Jobs & Careers

Gender pay gap explained 2023

We hear about the gender pay gap a lot in the media. But, what does it mean and how does it affect you? Here's a super simple guide to get you up to speed.

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Unfortunately, we're still a long way off from achieving true equality in the workplace. 20th November 2022 marked Equal Pay Day; the day women effectively start working for free relative to men because of the gender pay gap. That's a whole 42 days of unpaid work.

Shockingly, women are paid on average around 15% less than men in the UK. To make sense of this (pretty huge) issue, here's your complete guide to what pay gaps mean, why they exist and what's being done about them.

Unsure what salary to expect when you graduate? Our list of average starting salaries based on degree subjects can help.

What is the gender pay gap?

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People often assume the gender pay gap, or 'gender wage gap', is caused by men and women getting paid different amounts of money for doing the same job. While this is part of the problem, the gender pay gap is a much more complex issue.

It's also important not to confuse it with equal pay.

The difference between the gender pay gap and equal pay

  1. Equal pay As stated in the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal to pay men and women differently for performing equal work.
  2. The gender pay gap – This measures the difference between men's and women's average earnings across a company or the labour force as a whole.

Equal pay is a legal issue, while the gender pay gap is a much broader problem in society.

Put simply, this means that the gender pay gap is caused by much more than men and women being paid differently for the same jobs.

A number of different factors contribute to the gender pay gap. This includes the different types of work that men and women do, the seniority of roles, the difference between people doing full-time and part-time work, socio-economic status, attitudes to maternity/paternity leave and much more.

Is there a gender pay gap in the UK?

Research shows that the gender pay gap in the UK is noticeable across numerous industries, but there has been a gradual improvement over recent years. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported:

In 2022, the gap among full-time employees increased to 8.3%, up from 7.7% in 2021. [...] Among all employees, the gender pay gap decreased to 14.9%, from 15.1% in 2021, but is still below the levels seen in 2019 (17.4%).

The official figure of 14.9% is based on the average hourly earnings of all workers, both full-time and part-time. It means that, for every £100 a man earns, a woman would generally earn £85.10.

This gap is larger still if a woman is also part of a minority ethnic group or disabled, as will be explained below.

Why does the gender pay gap exist?

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There are many reasons why the gender pay gap exists. And it's not just about individual salaries. It's also about the kind of jobs women tend to do and their working habits in comparison with men.

Here are some of the main reasons men generally earn more than women:

  1. Part-time work

    According to the ONS, around 37% of women were working part-time between December 2020 and February 2021, compared to about 12% of men. For both men and women, people with part-time jobs tend to get paid less per week than their full-time colleagues.

    Women choose to work part-time for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones is childcare. This leads us to our next point...

  2. Childcare

    Thankfully, in age groups below 40, the gender pay gap for full-time workers is now close to non-existent. But, it's still pretty significant for people aged 40+. This is most likely due to women leaving work or cutting down their hours to have children.

  3. Gender inequality within industries

    We all know there's no such thing as 'girl jobs' and 'boy jobs'. But, some occupations are dominated by a certain gender, and the earning potential between sectors can vary.

    For example, women typically dominate roles within the teaching and care industries. The salaries for these positions are generally less than those offered to people working in management or director roles – areas that tend to be dominated by men.

While these factors clarify why the gender pay gap exists, they shouldn't be taken as excuses to explain away the issue. It's still a problem that needs addressing, but the solution clearly isn't as simple as just paying men and women the same.

To tackle this problem, we should be looking at childcare provision, attitudes to maternity/paternity leave and parenthood in the workplace, increasing accessibility in certain industries and much more.

How is the gender pay gap calculated?

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As you can imagine, calculating something as complex as the gender pay gap isn't exactly straightforward, and figures vary depending on what method's used.

For example, you'll see different numbers cited depending on whether the average is calculated as a median or mean, or whether part-time jobs have been included.

The official figure's based on the average hourly pay of workers, excluding overtime hours. It is presented as a percentage difference between men's and women's earnings.

You might see variations of official figures as it's sometimes reported as the mean average, and sometimes as the median average.

But, when the mean average is used, the results could be slightly skewed if there's a small group of people in very well- or poorly-paid positions.

As the median average isn't distorted by the highest and lowest outliers, it's often considered a more accurate representation of the gender pay gap.

What's the difference between the median and mean?

Median averages find the value directly in the middle of all results. When used to calculate the gender pay gap, it takes the salaries of all female employees, sorted from lowest to highest paid, and finds the central value. The difference between that employee’s salary and the median male’s salary becomes the gender pay gap.

Mean averages are calculated by adding up all results and dividing by the total number of results. So, when this method’s used to calculate the average salaries of men and women, the highest and lowest incomes of each gender can skew the results as they’re given equal weight to the most common salaries, despite being much rarer.

University gender pay gaps

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Gender pay gap data share

As of 2017/18, all companies with over 250 employees are legally required to record their gender pay gaps.

You can search the results on the government’s website, where you’ll find everyone from Disney to Deloitte.

In 2021, 78% of reporting businesses said that medium hourly pay was higher for men than for women. Finance and insurance showed the largest gaps.

The reporting is a crucial first step in naming and shaming the worst offenders and forcing companies to look at ways to tackle inequalities in the workplace. It should (hopefully!) empower employees at companies with a large gender pay gap to make internal changes and suggestions to drive progression.

The data needs to be updated annually. With it being so readily available to the public, it’s in the companies’ best interests to make improvements and avoid damage to their reputation.

What is the gender pay gap at your university?

All universities in the UK are now legally required to record their gender pay gaps. The results make for interesting reading.

According to THE, women earned 14.8% less than men among higher education teaching professionals in 2020/21.

When looking at the gender pay gaps across the entire workforce of individual unis, you can see that some have a much worse gap than this average.

The University of Exeter has the biggest gap among Russell Group unis. Here, women earned a median hourly wage of 21.7% less than men.

On the other hand, there are a handful of universities with a gender pay gap of 0%. The College of St Peter Le Bailey Oxford actually reported a pay gap of -7.7%, meaning that, on average, they pay women slightly more than men. This is also the case for The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (-5.6%) and St John’s College Cambridge (-0.8%).

University gender pay gaps ranked

UniversityMedian hourly pay gap (%)Women in lower quartile pay (%)Women in top quartile pay (%)
AECC University College39.26345
Arden University22.17051
Durham University20.266.538.3
Brunel University London20.16839
Harper Adams University31.674.340
Teesside University23.37748
University of Keele2174.346.8
Lady Margaret Hall (Oxford)0.64655
London Business School10.660.745
Lancaster University21.67334.9
Liverpool John Moores University24.665.542.2
Emmanuel College (Cambridge)199654
University of East Anglia21.669.146.8
University of Portsmouth13.268.742.1
University of Warwick19.96337
University of Reading25.471.348.5
Arts University Bournemouth216948
Bournemouth University18.471.442.8
The College of St Peter Le Bailey (Oxford)-7.74239.1
St Mary's University Twickenham1470.351.5
King's College (Cambridge)21.56933
Bishop Grosseteste University11.174.858.3
University of Bradford14.868.742.8
University of Exeter21.76744
University of Birmingham17.661.738.9
University College (Oxford)16.155.930.6
University of Leicester1664.339.3
University of Chester147153.5
University of Wolverhampton13.77449
Bath Spa University11.168.350.2
Edge Hill University11.474.659.7
Liverpool Hope University8.57652
Newman University15.96262.4
University of Southampton19.966.637.2
University of Winchester13.769.351.2
University of York14.86443
York St John University12.16753.8
University of Sunderland8.259.347.9
The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity (Oxford)43.864.240
University of Northumbria at Newcastle17.763.843.3
University of Hull13.771.342.7
Newcastle University16.267.540.6
Leeds Trinity University11.866.754.1
City, University of London11.467.141.5
St George's, University of London8.470.345.4
Aston University15.969.140.5
University of Liverpool14.27041.5
Cardiff University13.76540
University of Worcester067.560.6
Trinity College (Cambridge)16.988.249.4
University Of Bath15.76037.2
University of Suffolk17.778.447.8
University of Nottingham17.767.139.6
University of Hertfordshire11.272.353.9
Cardiff Metropolitan University8.56548.5
University of Greenwich9.166.745.2
Coventry University9.86545
Sheffield Hallam University13.768.650.5
University of Bristol11.16642
University of Gloucestershire13.773.943.5
University of Oxford11.164.640.4
Writtle University College13.77863
University of Leeds12.965.640.9
The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts14.684.645.6
University for the Creative Arts117249
University Of Derby17.87251
University of Huddersfield13.77543
University of Sussex126940
The University of Manchester11.14041.8
University of Sheffield8.466.242.1
The Provost and Scholars of the Queen's College (Oxford)15.663.146.4
Leeds Beckett University5.762.645.5
Plymouth College of Art17.374.461.2
The University of Lincoln11.168.341.5
The University of Northampton12.465.150.3
The University of Salford11.16546
University Of Cambridge962.240
University of Surrey13.76140
University of the West of England13.67348
Canterbury Christ Church University8.569.551.1
Falmouth University11.165.639.7
Regent's University London4.749.558
King's College London9.66244
Gonville & Caius College (Cambridge)
Royal Academy of Music05537
London School of Economics and Political Science6.15739
London Metropolitan University13.964.247.5
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance06151
Kingston University Higher Education Corporation5.46850
Norwich University of the Arts8.855.739.8
University of Central Lancashire8.56550.2
Nottingham Trent University11.17047
Anglia Ruskin University2.967.753.3
The University of Chichester8.46551
University of Kent12.66344.5
Imperial College London6.351.131.8
Middlesex University8.267.246
Birkbeck College, University of London2.657.148.9
The University of Cumbria11.17556
The University of Westminster3.164.946.5
University of the Arts, London5.270.159.4
Birmingham City University86444
University College Birmingham7.969.863.3
Buckinghamshire New University562.646
Wadham College (Oxford)5.155.939.7
Leeds Arts University5.753.157.8
Oxford Brookes University66850.5
The Open University13.36953
University of South Wales5.76846
The University of Law9.628.461.3
Roehampton University057.853.4
School of Oriental and African Studies656.950.9
The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama -5.66568
University of London2.64752
Goldsmiths' College4.157.850.8
London South Bank University5.36056
De Montfort University8.466.346.8
Solent University059.545.2
University of Bolton2.965.948.6
BPP University2.868.861.8
Manchester Metropolitan University3.26048.8
Royal College of Music051.544.6
Royal Northern College of Music05237.1
St Catherine's College (Oxford)05845
University of Bedfordshire Higher Education Corporation9.170.554.6
University of West London12.267.240.6
Wrexham Glyndwr University063.157.4
St John's College (Cambridge)-0.853.562.6
University of St Mark & John8.96962.6
Northumbria University7.864.154.4
Leeds Conservatoire36.354.432.2

Note: This table includes data from the 2021/22 tax year.

What are universities doing about their gender pay gaps?

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Although all universities were legally required to report their gender pay gap data, commenting or explaining what they were doing to tackle it was optional.

In their March 2021 gender pay gap report, Harper Adams University, an institution that specialises in agricultural and rural disciplines, said:

The challenges we face in addressing the Gender Pay Gap include those relating to the
specific industry areas in which we specialise and the legacy of those areas.

We are seeing changes in the balance of equality between men and women in our roles, but these are slow to come through in applications for positions that will enable significant changes to our Gender Pay Gap statistics.

We are wholly committed to closing the gap.

Durham University fares the worst out of all the Russell Group unis for their gender pay gap, and they released a statement in 2018 that claimed they were committed to tackling the issue:

We recognise that the gender pay gap is a serious issue for Durham University, as it is for society as a whole and the higher education sector in particular.

We are committed to addressing it through our comprehensive action plan, approved by the University Executive Committee and University Council.

Clearly, the government hopes that by making the data public, organisations will be encouraged to take steps to rectify the situation and improve their standing.

However, it remains to be seen what direct action will actually be taken in most cases.

Gender pay gaps at universities compared to other sectors

When looking at the ONS 2022 gender pay gap report, it’s clear that higher education professionals experience significant pay inequality. Men generally earn around 10% more than women. However, it is far from the worst industry for this issue.

For example, waste disposal and environmental services managers experience a gender pay gap of around 34%. And vehicle technicians, mechanics and electricians have a pay gap of around 30%.

In contrast, among dancers and choreographers, there’s a pay gap of -36%, meaning women generally earn more than men.

If you’ve got a part-time job at university, make sure you know your employment rights.

Ethnicity and disability pay gaps

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As well as the gender pay gap, there are also noticeable differences in earnings for Black and minority ethnic workers and people with disabilities.

Ethnicity pay gaps

According to a 2019 report by ONS (their latest report at the time of writing), the ethnicity pay gap between White and ethnic minority people is the lowest it’s been since 2012 in England and Wales.

The report found that most ethnic minority employees earn less than White British people on average. The ethnic pay gap is particularly marked among Pakistani (16%), White and Black African (15%) and Bangladeshi (15%) people.

However, on average, White and Asian (-7%), Indian (-16%), Chinese (-23%) and White Irish (-41%) people earn more than those who are White British.

For most ethnic groups, men still earn more than women. But, among men, there is a bigger ethnicity pay gap than there is among women.

Inequality among higher education professionals

People from ethnic minority backgrounds also face serious under-representation at universities. According to 2020/21 data from HESA, among higher-education employees who do both teaching and research (i.e. professors), only 2% are Black.

This compares to around 9% who are Asian and 79% who are White British.

Disability pay gaps

The most recent ONS report on disability pay gaps in the UK (from 2021) showed that there was a 13.8% pay gap between non-disabled and disabled employees. And, the disability pay gap was actually wider for men than women.

These are the best universities for graduate salaries – and Oxbridge isn’t top.

How you can help to close pay gaps

Pay gaps based on gender, ethnicity or disability aren’t going to disappear overnight. It’s going to take employers, educators and the government working together to create some real change.

We need better education, awareness and shifting attitudes to create real equality and fairness. But, now that thousands of companies are being legally required to reveal their gender pay gap, the first steps are being taken.

However, we can all do our bit to help close these pay gaps. If you, or someone you know, are being affected by an unfair pay gap at work, always report it to your manager or HR department.

Talking more openly about our salaries will also help. People often shy away from talking about pay, but this only allows pay gaps to continue. Pay gaps can only be called out and challenged if people know they exist after all.

Finally, we should all do our best to support each other in the workplace. While we need the government and employers to take real action, helping those around us where possible can help create a more inclusive atmosphere.

Speaking up about pay gaps can take guts. You can build up your confidence by reading our guide on what to expect in your first job.


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