The college gender gap narrows, but slowly

While the gender pay gap has improved on average at most colleges, sector leaders have said the rate of change is too slow

While the gender pay gap has improved on average at most colleges, sector leaders have said the rate of change is too slow

30 Apr 2022, 5:00

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Colleges are encouraging more men to work flexibly and are overhauling recruitment imagery to attract more women into better-paid teaching roles to try and tackle gender pay gaps. 

An analysis of gender pay data by FE Week shows the gap at most of England’s colleges is narrowing but that it will take 15 years to close completely at current rates of progress. 

While the gender pay gap has improved on average at most colleges, sector leaders have said the rate of change is too slow. 

Out of a sample of 147 colleges, the difference in median hourly pay between men and women went from 16 per cent in 2020/2021 to 15 per cent in 2021/2022. 

Catina Barrett, from the Women’s Leadership Network, told FE Week that colleges must not “just keep rolling the same approach” if the situation is to be improved. 

“It’s fair enough to say it may take several years to make a significant difference. But if you’re saying it will take several years and we do one percentage point a year, that is not good enough,” she said.

‘Disproportionate’ percentage of women in lower-paid part-time roles 

Out of FE Week’s sample of 147 colleges, Kendal College in the Lake District reported the highest gender pay gap for difference in hourly rate (median) at 60.4 per cent. 

When comparing median hourly wages, women at the college earned 39.6 pence for every £1 that men earned. Furness College in Cumbria had the second highest gap (36.6 per cent). 

Kendal College said the median figure for female staff is significantly lower due to the fact they have a higher proportionate number of female staff employed as classroom learning assistants, cafe assistants and cleaning assistants. 

They added that many of these roles are part-time contracts, and each employment is counted separately in the median comparison. 

“Part of the pay gap issue we face is that we have made many roles increasingly family friendly and flexible which has attracted a disproportionate percentage of women into the lower-paid part-time roles which fit around other commitments,” Kendal’s principal Kelvin Nash told FE Week. 

“The dominance of women in these roles is, from our analysis, due to the unequal shares of caring work in the home done by men and women, resulting in women doing more part-time work, which in comparison with full-time jobs have a lower hourly median pay.” 

Nash told FE Week the college is taking the “positive steps” required to change the imbalance, such as proactively advertising vacancies for women in higher paid roles, such as management, science, engineering and construction. 

Furness College, where women earned 63.4 pence for every pound earned by men, said its lowest quartile is primarily made up of cleaning and catering staff, roles that many organisations outsource and therefore do not include in their gender pay gap reporting.

These roles at Furness are currently 84 per cent female-staffed, and “this is primarily the reason for our gender pay gap, which we are working hard to address”. 

The college added that outsourcing their cleaning and catering staff would bring the college’s gender pay gap under national and sector benchmarks. 

“Lots of colleges find that median and mean isn’t very helpful to them,” Catina Barrett told FE Week. 

“So, they all blame childcare, women wanting to work part time, women only wanting to work term time, those kinds of things. 

“If there’s an issue, it is about how they’re organising part-time working, and then they’re running a whole raft of vacancies. They need to look at that practice, not on what’s wrong with the data reporting… because other organisations will equally have a workforce that has women in it, and they don’t say that it’s distorted in the same way.” 

Tackling the gap 

Kendal College said it has made it easier for men to opt for part-time and flexible roles, in a bid to tackle the gender pay gap. 

“Opening up traditionally male roles within the college to flexible working has encouraged more women to work in them, and in turn, more men to switch to part time,” said Nash. 

“This is working, in that we have in place, for example, part-time female managers building careers around other responsibilities, and a growing number of males in part-time and lower-paid jobs.” 

Kendal College has also introduced a pay award for 2021/22 that they claim has reduced the differential. 

All staff on minimum wage were paid a six per cent increase, with other staff receiving a three per cent increase. As the majority of staff on minimum wage are women, the pay increase of six per cent helped close the gender pay gap. 

Hartlepool College, who had the joint third highest gender pay gap in FE Week’s sample, along with West Nottinghamshire College, at 35 per cent, said it is doing all it can to recruit and select females into teaching roles, especially in construction and engineering. 

“In addition, in recent years extra pay has gone to those performing valuable roles on lower pay scales,” a spokesperson told FE Week. 

Fluctuation in the gap 

Government data showed significant fluctuation in the gender pay gap at some colleges. 

FE Week analysis found that 73 colleges were able to close their gender pay gap between 2020/2021 and 2021/2022. 

However, 59 colleges saw their gender pay gap increase. There was no change at 15 colleges. 

The largest increases seen were at Bath College – where the difference in median hourly pay went from 3.9 per cent in 2020/2021 to a gap of 15.1 per cent in 2021/2022. 

And Stoke on Trent College, which had no gender pay gap in 2020/2021, had a gap of nine per cent in 2021/2022. 

FE Week contacted both colleges for comment but did not get a response. 

By contrast, NCG told FE Week that their gender pay gap reduced from 42.9 per cent to 13.3 per cent and has reduced by a further 1.2 percentage point in the last reporting period to 12.1 per cent, although this data differs from what is on the government’s gender pay gap website. 

Joe McGraw, director of people and development at NCG, told FE Week that over the past two years the organisation has reduced its gender pay gap by implementing a number of “positive changes”, including a commitment to paying the living wage to all their colleagues.

“We are continuing to standardise our pay structure and criteria for pay progression from entry point to career progression and implement a role-profiling system to develop an equitable salary and benefit structure,” he said. 

“As part of this, we undertake a continuous equal pay audit to ensure our pay system delivers equal pay across like-for-like roles regardless of gender.”

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  1. Lisa Salkeld

    These colleges have no issues with equal pay between their male and female staff, and the male/female median pay that you are referring to is a not very helpful way of looking at pay generally.

    Median pay is all about the number of male and female staff at the bottom and top end of the pay scale; even if the Principal in these colleges was to change from a man to a woman the median pay gap would not alter one bit, if there were no increase in men at the lower end.

    What the colleges could do is to simply outsource all the lower paid work and then those staff would not be counted in their equal pay return. Outsourcing is how a lot of other employers have ‘solved the problem’….although not very helpful to the women who like the role, the flexible hours and their place of work.

    I work in one of these lower paid roles through choice, based on my individual circumstances, and I thank colleges such as Kendal, Furness and Hartlepool for giving me the chance.