Does Southampton REALLY have a pay gap problem?

It was found that female staff earn just 93% what their male counterparts do – but does that tell the whole story?

Last week, a survey of higher education institutions found that on average, female lecturers were paid 7% less than their male counterparts.  Predictably, this made several people rather hot under the collar – something that I’m quite keen to clear up.

I’d like to preface this with one simple caveat – I believe in equality of opportunity for all, whatever their background. If it can be demonstrated that an imbalance in pay between men and women in the same roles, departments and fulfilling the same tasks exists as a result of their gender, then I firmly support policies designed to redress this injustice.

southampton university

However, I feel that many saw that headline and regarded it as incontrovertible evidence of their own beliefs – that is to say, that it demonstrated an entrenched system discriminating against women.  And with regards to this study, I’d call that disingenuous and morally bankrupt manipulation of limited facts.

It is undeniable that our most renowned department is the School of Engineering. It is also a fact that the majority of the lecturers in this department are male – and that there are less female lecturers teaching at the level of Southampton’s engineers than there are male. Obviously efforts need to be made to entice women into this field, but the current situation is that in a department likely to be one of the highest paid in the university, there are statistically more men working in it.

Thus, any figures that reduce research on the pay gap to lecturers from across the university are going to be heavily skewed. For the study to demonstrate evidence of an actual pay gap, an effort to compare and contrast lecturers from singular departments is required – preferably one with controls in place for other variables, such as length of employment, quality of research and specific internal role.

Without such control, any study is baseless scaremongering. It demonstrates a broad strokes pay gap without investigating other potential root causes, as well as assuming that correlation equates to causation. Studies have demonstrated that taller individuals (often but not limited to men) earn more than their shorter counterparts – any pay gap may not be rooted in gender bias, but an employer’s subconscious fear of having their ankles gnawed off.

Such distinction is important, especially when studies are cited as justification for national legislation. My personal opinion is that individual earnings should be exclusively based upon the capability of the employee. External characteristics should play no part in judging the worth of an employee to a company. All-encompassing decrees that demand equal pay for all men and women ignores the variety of the individual that can effect their earnings.

If a man and woman identical but for their gender are remunerated at a different level for their identical work, then redress is required. But the act of twisting statistics to support your own previously held beliefs is dangerous, immoral and serves as a restriction on progress. We must stop our kneejerk reactions and identify the problem beyond reasonable doubt, or face resolving an issue that exists only in our minds.