‘Consider the context’: colleges defend against gender pay gap Twitter bot

Numerous colleges fell victim, with some commentators accusing them of hypocrisy online. Some colleges deleted their initial posts 

Numerous colleges fell victim, with some commentators accusing them of hypocrisy online. Some colleges deleted their initial posts 

11 Mar 2022, 10:03

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Colleges have defended themselves after a Twitter bot called them out for celebrating International Women’s Day despite having significant gender pay gaps. 

Organisations across the UK came under fire on Tuesday after the Gender Pay Gap Bot retweeted their posts honouring the day along with their figures on women’s median hourly pay compared to men’s. 

Numerous colleges fell victim, with some commentators accusing them of hypocrisy online. Some colleges deleted their initial posts. 

However, colleges have said there are important contextualising factors that need to be considered. 

Leeds College of Building posted a tweet saying that to mark International Women’s Day they were celebrating female staff at the college to break the bias about careers in construction. 

This tweet was then retweeted by the bot, with figures showing that at the college, women’s median hourly pay was 30.5 per cent lower than men’s. 

Derek Whitehead, principal of Leeds College of Building, told FE Week that their latest figures show that this gap has decreased to 24.7 per cent. 

“We would highlight that we are a specialist construction college working in a traditionally male-dominated sector,” he said. 

“Currently, women only make up around 14 per cent of construction industry professionals in the UK. This is an industry-wide issue reflected in staff ratios across most construction-related fields, making recruitment of female lecturers in construction crafts and trade skills challenging.” 

Whitehead noted that the number of female apprentices studying at Leeds College of Building has grown from 44 in 2014 to 207 at present, a 370 per cent increase. 

The Fawcett Society campaigns to close the gender pay gap – saying that the issue reflects “inequalities and discrimination in the labour market that mostly affect women”. 

One reason the society gives for the gap is a divided labour market, where women are still more likely to be in low-paid and low-skills jobs.

Furness College in Cumbria, where women’s median hourly pay is 32.4 per cent lower than men’s, told FE Week that their gap was affected by this, saying that a large number of female staff are in lower-skilled jobs. 

“At Furness College all male and female staff are on the same pay bands for the same job. The cause of our gender pay gap is not a result of fewer females in higher paid roles,” the spokesperson said. 

“Of our upper quartile (highest-paid 25 per cent of staff) currently, 57 per cent are female. Our lowest quartile is primarily made up of cleaning and catering staff, roles which many organisations outsource and therefore do not include in their gender pay gap reporting,” the spokesperson said. 

Currently, 84 per cent of females fulfil these roles at Furness College – something the college says is primarily the reason for their gender pay gap which the spokesperson said they are “working hard to address”. 

What causes the gender pay gap? 

Joanne Moseley, professional support lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, told FE Week there are “many reasons” why most employers still have a gender pay gap. 

“For example, an employer whose senior leaders are predominantly men (perhaps because they’ve struggled to attract women to the sector) will have a high gender pay gap.” 

She explained that women tend to do more part-time work than men, and most part-time work is less well paid than full-time work, which results in the disparity. 

“What’s more interesting is looking at what steps organisations are taking to reduce their gender pay gap and to see if these strategies are working by comparing data year on year.” 

FE Week analysed available data for 112 colleges between 2018 and 2021. Across these colleges, the difference in hourly rate between women and men (median) in 2018/19 was 15.7 per cent. 

This figure rose to 16.3 per cent in 2019/20 and then went down again to 15.5 per cent in 2020/21. 

“Last year, the ONS put the overall gender pay gap in the UK in 2021 at a median of 15.4 per cent and many of the organisations who’ve been identified by the bot have gaps that are similar to this,” Moseley said. 

The Association of Colleges said there is “still work to do on the gender pay gap in colleges”, with women making up a significant proportion of those carrying out lower-paid support roles and men often working in teaching roles attracting market supplements from male-dominated industries. 

“However, as a sector, further education has done better than other areas of education in supporting women to leadership positions – 61 per cent of staff and 48 per cent of principals and chief executives in colleges are women,” the spokesperson added. 

Colleges deleting tweets

Some colleges deleted their initial tweets celebrating International Women’s Day after they were retweeted by the Gender Pay Gap Bot. These included Blackburn College and Fareham College. 

After Blackburn College deleted their original tweet, one Twitter-user commented: “Deleting the tweet is evading responsibility and demonstrating an astounding inability to reflect and be accountable to this shocking gender pay gap. Do better.” 

FE Week reached out to both institutions but did not receive a reply by the time of publication. 

Moseley told FE Week that it was surprising that some organisations have deleted their original tweets. 

“It’s possible to celebrate the good work that women are doing in your workplace even if you have a gender pay gap (which most organisations do unless they don’t employ any men).

 “Having a gender pay gap doesn’t mean that an employer is paying a woman less than she pays a man doing the same or similar work, which is unlawful,” she said. 



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  1. Dave Spart

    “At Furness College all male and female staff are on the same pay bands for the same job. The cause of our gender pay gap is not a result of fewer females in higher paid roles”

    So their defence is (a) we’re not breaking the law, and (b) it’s just that there are more women in the lowest paid roles.