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Jobs & Careers

Gender pay gap explained 2021

We hear about the gender pay gap a lot in the media – but what does it really 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 achieving true equality in the workplace. 14th November 2019 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 48 days of unpaid work.

Shockingly, women are paid on average around 17% less than men in the UK. And, Save the Student have found that signs of the gender pay gap begin even at university, with female students anticipating a starting salary of £2,140 less than their male peers.

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? Take a look at our list of average starting salaries based on degree subjects.

What is the gender pay gap?

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People often assume the gender pay gap, or 'gender wage gap' as it's also called, 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 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 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 range of different factors contribute to the gender pay gap, including 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:

Among all employees the [gender pay] gap fell from 17.8% in 2018 to 17.3% in 2019.

The official figure of 17.3% 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 earns £82.70.

While this is an improvement on previous years, it's obviously still a shocking figure and change is very much needed.

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 loads of reasons why the gender pay gap exists. It's not just about individual salaries – it's 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 40% of women work part-time, compared to about 13% of men. For both men and women, those working in part-time work tend to get paid less per hour than their full-time colleagues.

    Women choose to work part-time for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones is for childcare. Which leads us onto 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 less than those offered to people working in management or director roles – and areas that tend to be dominated by men.

While these factors explain 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 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 lowers 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.

Is there a gender pay gap among graduates?

As we mentioned earlier, for people aged below 40, the gender pay gap for full-time employees is close to zero. But, our National Student Money Survey found that the pay gap can still have an impact on you, even before you start a graduate job.

We asked over 3,000 UK students what starting salary they’d expect when they leave uni.

infographic about expected graduate salaries

Both male and female students are expecting salaries well below the national average, but women are predicting salaries of £1,418 less than men.

These are really worrying stats, but the good news is that this gap had closed slightly since the previous year. The Student Money Survey 2018 found that there had been a huge £4,376 difference between male and female students’ anticipated salaries (men said they expected on average £24,466 and women said £20,090!).

Let’s hope the gap between men’s and women’s expected graduate salaries closes even more in the coming years…

University gender pay gaps

Gender pay gap data share

Female teacher in class

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

You can search the results here, where you’ll find everyone from Disney to Deloitte.

In April 2019, it was reported that around eight in 10 companies pay men more than women, with construction, finance and insurance showing 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 change.

However, it remains to be seen whether this will have a direct impact on reducing gender pay gaps at these companies.

The data needs to be updated annually, though, and 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?

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

Data from April 2019 shows that, among Higher Education teaching professionals, women earn on average 8.4% less than men. But looking at the gender pay gaps across the entire workforces of individual unis, some have a much (much!) worse gap than this average.

According to the 2018/19 gender pay gap report, Harper Adams University had a significant gap that year, with women earning a median hourly wage of 33.7% less than men. Although not all unis have submitted data for the 2019/20 report yet, Harper Adams University have, and the new report shows their gender pay gap has worryingly increased to 34.2%.

Other unis to feature in the top 10 worst offenders from 2018/19 include the Royal Veterinary College (29% gender pay gap) and Teesside University (28%).

But, UCL had one of the smallest gender pay gaps among unis that year at 5.4%.

Interestingly, a small number of universities pay women on average more than men.

At The University of Law, for example, the median hourly wages of women was 5.3% higher than men’s in 2018/19. But, when looking at the bonuses at this uni, women had a median bonus pay of 28.6% less than men.

University gender pay gaps ranked

UniversityMedian hourly pay gap (%)Women in lower quartile pay (%)Women in top quartile pay (%)
University of Buckingham417243
Loughborough University35.769.433.6
Harper Adams University33.772.741.9
Royal Holloway College and Bedford New College31.668.738.7
Royal Veterinary College2976.750
Teesside University287242
Durham University27.967.636.8
University of Hull27.871.541.8
University Of Keele27.766.349.9
Newman University27.37149
Brunel University London25.76336
Lancaster University25.570.232.8
University of Plymouth25.572.144.2
Liverpool Hope University25.47250
University of Warwick25.36534
University Of East Anglia24.867.746.9
Bath Spa University23.271.748.4
University of Portsmouth23.259.642.3
University of Wolverhampton22.47549
Cranfield University22.263.221.5
Aston University22.263.137.4
Liverpool John Moores University21.96544
University of Bradford21.360.842.1
Arts University Bournemouth217652
University of Huddersfield217331
University of St Andrews216435
Leeds Trinity University20.964.354.3
University of Northumbria at Newcastle19.866.345.4
Edge Hill University19.672.361.5
University of Birmingham19.662.537
St Mary's University, Twickenham19.16847
University of Leicester1964.637.8
University Of Liverpool1970.939.5
University Of Suffolk Ltd18.975.451.3
Bournemouth University18.667.943.3
Sheffield Hallam University18.669.649.5
University of Essex18.668.240.1
University of Reading18.565.746.1
University of Sussex18.27335
Newcastle University18.16637
The University Of Chichester1866.546.4
London Business School17.766.541.8
York St John University17.76752
University Of Bath17.659.535.9
Cardiff University17.16338
University of Nottingham16.66740.1
University of York16.36340
University Of Gloucestershire16.273.739.8
University of Winchester16.268.247.6
University of Southampton16.266.139.5
University of Hertfordshire16.16953
University of Exeter166845
University of Brighton1664.746.4
The University of Northampton15.77351.3
University of Sunderland15.469.144.7
St George's, University of London15.273.245.1
Royal Academy of Music156132
London School Of Economics & Political Science14.95435
University of Chester14.57352
University of Leeds14.366.240
King's College London14.16440
University of Surrey146142
City, University Of London13.755.536.4
Coventry University13.77141
Falmouth University13.771.139.7
University Of Cambridge13.762.637.2
University Of Kent13.763.742.9
University of Oxford13.762.538
Swansea University13.76438
University of Bedfordshire13.771.448.4
Nottingham Trent University13.66346
University Of Bristol13.666.340.1
University of Greenwich13.56343.6
Canterbury Christ Church University13.266.347.9
University of the West of England12.66948
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine12.572.245.3
Solent University12.35937.2
London Metropolitan University126044
The University Of Manchester1260.938
School Of Oriental And African Studies11.966.843.3
University of London11.66445
University Of Derby11.46651
The University of Salford11.26243
Anglia Ruskin University116650
Buckinghamshire New University10.85651
University of Sheffield10.764.540.2
Birkbeck College, University of London10.25745.2
Queen Mary University of London1053.737.8
University of East London9.36444
Norwich University of the Arts8.75038.8
The University Of Cumbria8.675.459
The University of Lincoln8.56938
University of Central Lancashire8.564.448
Kingston University Higher Education Corporation866.248.2
University of the Arts, London7.964.755
Leeds Beckett University7.760.843.4
Imperial College London7.647.130.7
University of Bolton6.962.140.8
University for the Creative Arts6.871.550
Birmingham City University6.26345
Bishop Grosseteste University6.17966
Middlesex University6.15847.2
Manchester Metropolitan University659.251.4
Oxford Brookes University5.866.750.3
Leeds Arts University5.756.550.7
Royal Agricultural University5.649.434.9
London South Bank University5.361.849.9
Roehampton University5.26255
The University Of Westminster5.166.546.5
BPP University4.660.254.3
Regent's University London3.758.344.5
The Open University3.36855
The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama3.26659
University of South Wales2.964.444.5
University Of St Mark & St John2.86761
De Montfort University2.666.443.8
University of Worcester2.266.163.4
University of West London1.659.849.4
Staffordshire University06949
The University of Law-5.368.262.1

Note: This table includes data from 2018/19.

Only universities in England were required to report their gender pay gaps under the new regulations. Institutions in Scotland and Wales already report on this to their separate devolved governments, and the majority of non-English unis do not feature in this list.

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.

That said, a number of universities issued statements in 2018 addressing the issue.

The Vice-Chancellor at Harper Adams University, an institution which specialises in agricultural and rural disciplines, explained why the university has such a high gender pay gap:

The gender pay gap reporting method does not take account of historical issues of gender balance in some employment sectors.

This has clearly impacted on our figures this year, where the role we play in providing employment in our local economy for a wide range of staff, including many in agricultural roles, also needs to be taken into account.

Durham University fares the worst out of all the Russell Groups for their gender pay gap, and their Vice Chancellor, Stuart Corbridge, said the university’s 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.

Some universities have already stated plans of action, such as the London Business School which is taking measures to increase the number of women in tenure positions, as well as creating a “family-friendly task force”.

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

Gender pay gap at universities compared to other sectors

When looking at the full results of the survey, the education sector has one of the worst gender pay gaps – especially among part-time employees (34.4%).

The sector with the biggest gender pay gap among full-time employees is finance and insurance (27.8%).

And, a sector with a particularly low gender pay gap is accommodation and food services (1%).

If you’ve got a part-time job at university, make sure you know all of 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 the ONS, employees of Chinese, Indian and Mixed or Multiple ethnicities had higher median hourly pay than White British people in 2018. But, some BAME workers are paid significantly less – Pakistani and Bangladeshi employees had the lowest median hourly pay that year.

While there is a pay gap between White British employees and people who belong to ethnic minorities, the gap’s smaller among younger workers, becoming most noticeable in older age groups.

BAME and disabled workers also face serious under-representation at universities. According to statistics collected by charity Advance HE, only a small segment of university professors were from BAME backgrounds – for example, it found that just 0.6% of UK professors were black.

According to figures provided by the BBC in 2018, on average, compared with white male staff at Russell Group universities:

  • White women earned 15% less
  • Asian women earned 22% less
  • Black women earned 39% less.

Disability pay gaps

In the most recent ONS report on disability pay gaps in the UK (from 2018) it was found that there was a pay gap between non-disabled and disabled employees of 12.2%. And, the disability pay gap was actually wider for men than women.

There was a pay gap of 18.6% for disabled employees with a mental impairment, 9.7% for people with a physical impairment and 7.4% for people with other impairments.

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

How you can help to close pay gaps

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Pay gaps based on gender, ethnicity or disability aren’t going to disappear overnight. It’s going to take employers, educators and the government coming 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 for the first time, 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 – build up your confidence by reading our guide on what to expect in your first job.


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