Seismic gender pay gap at King’s College London

Jacqueline Robbins, a student at King's, has launched a campaign against the pay gap at the college

May 17, 2015
4 min read

I am a PhD student working with human stem cells to try and understand what happens to our brains in Alzheimer’s disease. I love researching this – but I can’t help thinking that a career in academia would be hugely demoralising, knowing that I would be paid up to 20% less than men in the same field.

The gender pay gap figures published in Times Higher Education really shoved in our faces the profound gender inequality in academia. Among the worst was my university, King’s College London, where women academics are paid £46,030 on average while men are paid £56,301 – a 19% difference. That’s a bigger pay gap than what the ‘Made in Dagenham’ women encountered at Ford in the 1960s.

This realisation forced us to wake up to the fact that we need to change this, so we’ve launched a campaign to end the gender pay gap at King’s. The University of London was the first in the UK to admit women, and it is imperative that it now leads the way with fair pay.

With the tireless work and legal battles of feminists in the 20th century, I find it hard to understand why we still have to argue this case. Uta Frith, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL, points out that ‘Working towards gender equality in academia is pointless without the commitment to pay equality.’ For aspiring academics such as myself the current situation sends a discouraging message that research and teaching done by women is not valued as much as if performed by men. Moreover, at the current rate the pay gap will not be closed during my career, as The Fawcett Society, the leading charity for women’s rights in the UK estimates it will take 52 years. In addition to the moral imperative of reducing gender pay gaps, it is increasingly recognised that there are significant macroeconomic gains [pdf] to be had from reducing such disparities.

Khalida Ismail, Professor of Psychiatry and Medicine at King’s, points out that ‘Female academics have more onerous job plans and workloads (perhaps to prove themselves) and get paid less.’ I have heard from women academics at King’s that they had assumed they were not performing as well as the men in equivalent positions, which is upsetting to hear from the fantastic women role models I have here.

The lack of transparency when it comes to pay in the UK is a huge part of the issue, and countries that enforce transparency such as Sweden, Denmark and Belgium report smaller pay gaps. We are petitioning King’s to make publicly available the results of a pay review conducted two years ago, including salaries related to both gender and ethnicity. This transparency is needed to help ensure that pay is not affected by one’s gender or the colour of our skin, and that employees have the power to challenge this if they find that it is.

Progressive work is being done by the Athena SWAN committee at King’s, an initiative in UK universities to advance gender equality, updated this month to recognise intersectional factors and include trans staff. However, more needs to be done to ensure things improve in areas such as pay equality. One simple measure is equal representation amongst selection committees and those involved in salary negotiations. Athena SWAN certification is now needed to attract major research grants, so it is important to ensure that boxes are not just ticked to secure research funding and that permanent change is actually the driving factor.

We want information in the pay review to go beyond gender as although I’m upset about this situation in regards to how it affects me personally, it is a fundamental issue of equality and people of colour and transgender people are worse affected by unequal pay. Throughout this campaign we’ve worked closely with the inspiring intersectional feminist student group at King’s to ensure our campaign is as inclusive as possible. Our aim is to bring about positive change on fair pay across a diverse spectrum of people.

So please sign our petition or better yet, set up a campaign at your university or workplace.