Pay Gap

The British Government Forced Universities to Narrow The Gender Pay Gap. This Made It Worse.

British universities thought they'd found the formula that would roll back discrimination. Instead, the pay gap widened.

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The United Kingdom passed a law in 2010 that required public institutions, including universities, to eliminate gender discrimination in their organizations. New research suggests that the method many universities adopted to reduce gender pay disparities has had, if anything, the opposite effect.

Showing favorable treatment to employees on the basis of gender has been illegal in the U.K. since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970. In 2010, the Equality Act gave public institutions an additional positive duty to actively eliminate such discrimination. The law, however, did not specify how public institutions ought to go about doing so.

University College London (UCL) implemented a process called "professorial banding," assigning every professor in its ranks to one of four "bands" representing different levels of academic distinction, each with a corresponding range of appropriate pay. Most other universities quickly adopted similar methods.

So far, it hasn't worked. At UCL, the gender pay gap increased slightly, from 5.8 percent to 6 percent, after professorial banding was introduced. Jeff Frank, an economist at Royal Holloway, University of London, reports that banding has been similarly ineffective at other universities. "The gender gap has been remarkably persistent," he said.

In a study recently published in Fiscal Studies, Frank demonstrates that the professorial banding mechanism actually amplifies discrimination.

The study analyzed data from an anonymous British University, "University X," that adopted a professorial banding system similar to UCL's. Like UCL, the system had little effect, slightly increasing the gender pay gap after it was introduced.

The study corrected for the age and tenure of the university's professors, but not for their productivity. While this leaves open the possibility that male academics there are simply more productive, Frank believes this is unlikely. In 2019, female academics made up 37 percent of professors in the university's most productive departments, but only 30 percent of the professors overall. "This suggests that the average female professor at University X may be of comparable or higher productivity than the average male professor," Frank wrote.

Frank's paper shows that female academics tended to reach the top bands later than males, thereby delaying their pay increases. When women were promoted, they usually got stuck at the lowest pay levels of their new band, while male academics advanced to higher pay levels almost immediately.

Frank attributes these effects partly to external market forces. Many academics use offers from other universities as leverage to achieve higher pay at their own. "What we discovered in the previous research was women got fewer outside offers," Frank explains, "maybe because they were tied to not move because of family, and also the presumption that in a male-female partnership, the male career dominates." When a female academic received an outside offer, her current university was less likely to make a counteroffer, "perhaps because it judged that women were less mobile and therefore less likely to leave." Banding does nothing to correct for this phenomenon.

The rationale underpinning professorial banding is that re-grading professors from scratch on the basis of heavily described criteria will eliminate discrimination and ensure appropriate pay. This implicitly assumes that people no longer discriminate—or that if they do, the banding mechanisms will override it. Frank thinks this is misguided. "They build their structures on the assumption that there's no discrimination," says Frank. "People are still discriminatory. And committees are still discriminatory, in which case re-grading people doesn't necessarily do anything."

Additionally, the banding mechanism appears to exacerbate rather than override discrimination when compared to the traditional system of annual performance reviews previously used in British universities. Prior to professorial banding, academic salaries increased on a continuous scale, rising modestly when a professor had a "good year." Under banding, the bar for achieving a pay raise is much higher, requiring a significant accumulation of successes. As a result, partial successes go unrewarded. "Intuitively, this will penalise most those groups whose perceived success is least likely to exceed the cumulative threshold, perhaps due to discrimination," the study concludes.

Despite its inefficacy, professorial banding is still in effect in most British universities, partly because of the huge investment that went into implementing it. "The professorial banding exercise is really a quite expensive and intricate procedure," says Frank, "Once you've made a big investment in a new system, you don't give it up easily." Additionally, there isn't an obvious alternative.

In 2016, Essex University closed its gender pay gap by simply giving each female professor a raise of approximately £4,000. This was successful, with an effect that soon spread to lower academic ranks. By 2019, the university's gender pay gap was less than 2 percent in every rank. But this approach has issues as well, as it ignores the possibility that some women are overpaid. "If you give every woman a £4,000 pay rise, it's going to be rough justice," Frank says. "There are going to be some of those women who are already overpaid, and there will be some women who are grossly underpaid…but you're never going to get to exactly paying everybody exactly what they deserve."

Other efforts, such as ensuring that women are well-represented on academic pay panels, have fallen short. "All sorts of studies have shown that women managers are just as likely to discriminate against women employees that they manage as male managers," says Frank. 

An unavoidable part of the problem is that grading professors is inherently difficult. Academic positions are part of a "certain set of jobs… which are not routine, in the sense that you count how many widgets are produced of suitable quality." This makes it hard to pay everyone fairly.

"We've gotten into a bit of a trap," Frank argues. "We try to come up with really complicated regulations and solutions, partially because there are lobbyists involved who try and build in loopholes and complications—but just in general, we've let the best become the enemy of the good." A simpler approach may not be perfect, but it is more likely to work, to create fewer distortions, and to cost less to implement.

NEXT: Protesters Attacked a Journalist at the D.C. Protests. Then the Police Handcuffed Her.

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  1. It is to laugh.

    1. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new…HFd after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

      Here’s what I do…………….new Income Opportunities

    2. “What we discovered in the previous research was women got fewer outside offers,” Frank explains, “maybe because they were tied to not move because of family, and also the presumption that in a male-female partnership, the male career dominates.”

      Perhaps because women really have less value.

  2. Really big question; what the hell is a “productive professor”?
    Do they count the total number of socialists created by classroom brainwashing, or the number of words published in socialist papers, or the number of retweets of socialist propaganda, or what?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    1. What about STEM professors? Grade them based on hours taught and grant money brought? But mainly grant money brought it. Okay, actually just grant money brought in. You can punish the ones not bringing in the dough by making them teach more hours. They

      1. How about the success of their students? I think a professor whose students actually get good paying jobs should earn more. An ‘efficient’ professor may turn out thousands of future unemployed sociologists, English majors, or gender studies graduates but exactly how does that benefit society – at all? How many baristas does Starbucks need?

        1. A college professor probably only teaches one or two classes for a student, other professors teach all the other classes a student takes. No single teacher is responsible for a college student’s outcome. It’s not like 3rd grade where you have the same teacher all day every day and that teacher can make a real impact. Does an engineering grad who gets a high-paying job owe that to the prof who taught Electrical Engineering 102 or the prof who taught the History 101 that the grad took as a “required humanities”?

    2. Pretty sure they mean papers published, as there is little other measure they could use. Perhaps classes taught, and I’d even bet there’s a formula to come up with a number that’s preweighted before you even measure.

      In that context, I assume the exceptionally ‘productive’ women are in social science departments that can crank out drivel and no one cares. I’d wager the men that work in those same departments are above the median ‘productivity’ measure as well, although I bet there aren’t many ‘History of Feminism’ male Professors either.

      I’d also guess that it’s not as easy to publish a maths or engineering paper as it is to write about the patriarchy, since one of those two things actually has to work while the other can be pulled directly from one’s ass.

      Women should really get to work on that workplace morality gap, since the odd’s of dying on the job as a woman is way lower. I propose we enforce gender quota’s on Alaskan fishing boats and see how it goes. It might even help with the imaginary pay gap since deadly work usually pays more!

      1. Women should really get to work on that workplace morality gap, since the odd’s of dying on the job as a woman is way lower.

        Women have a long way to go on battlefield deaths and incarceration too. Pure laziness.

    3. exactly the question I had

  3. Inescapable scientific conclusion: men are worth more than women.

    1. If Bailey wasn’t busy compiling COVID misinformation, he’d be all over this.

    2. Don’t say this. ENB will try to dox you, ruin your career, and lie about you. https://twitter.com/phl43/status/1275420846954250241

      I contacted Reason to let them know I will not support their work or foundation in any way until they stop funding ENB’s leftist attack dog tactics on innocent people.

      1. How erudite of you.

      2. She will have to ruin my retirement instead of my career – – – – – – – –

  4. “What we discovered in the previous research was women got fewer outside offers,” Frank explains, “maybe because they were tied to not move because of family, and also the presumption that in a male-female partnership, the male career dominates.”

    When you start from stupid premises, you end up with stupid answers.

  5. Require all male professors to get pregnant and have at least one baby before they can advance. That’ll fix it.

    1. Have all the female professors identify as male, and the wage gap should work itself out in no time.

      1. Quicker still; have the university identify everybody as female.

        1. So, no more math department?

      2. How about have all the males identify as females instead?

  6. Don’t worry, soon if you are a Professor you’ll be paid ‘X’ regardless of performance. This is only fair, since Professors are usually far leftist if not outright communists. Let them practice what they…profess.

    Obviously, this will have no effects upon performance or ‘productivity’. No good far leftist or communist would ever dream of letting their individual good outweigh that of the communal good. These are, after all, evolved humans.

    Also, I assume in this context ‘productivity’ means ‘papers published’ and I’d be curious to see how quickly a social scientist can crank out garbage compared to a theoretical mathematician.

    I’m also sure that all these Professors would be happy to take a massive pay cut to reach some contrived idea of gender parity. The women that excelled should be paid the same as a first year woman, after all, and it shouldn’t matter if you teach basket weaving or thermodynamics.

    Why not just force women to get into STEM at the point of a gun? Obviously their choices aren’t what their betters thought they should be, so they need to be made to understand their place.

    If the pay isn’t exactly the same across the board, it must be the mans fault. After all, female choices are irrational so they can’t be expected to make the correct decisions for themselves.

    Ok, did I use up all the sarcasm?

    1. Why not just force women to get into STEM at the point of a gun?

      You hear this a lot from women who chose SJW majors instead of STEM majors.

      1. Yep, because they want equality of outcomes without the six to eight years of study required on their part. It’s the exact same reason communism inevitably fails. If you can get a reward without work, no one does the work and no one gets the reward.

        Only, I suppose, in the case of SJW-type degrees you can get a reward if you happen to land one of the few gigs teaching a bunch of stuff you basically made up out of whole cloth. So hooray, capitalism? That wouldn’t fly anywhere else, I think.

    2. If you want the typical academic to live the socialist dream they preach about, then

      1. Obviously, every employed person on campus, from dean to junior grounds keeper, should get the same pay.
      2. Since education should be free, there should be no tuition or fees for students (and no related university income).
      3. Since corporations are evil, no grants. Same with banks, so loans.
      4. That leaves the only source of income in demanding (begging) government for money, or trying to impose a direct tax on some surrounding area, preferably targeting the “rich”.
      5. Annual salaries will then be determined by dividing that challenged income by the number of employees.

      1. Well, comrade, it seems you’ve forgotten the tried-and-true method of if they agitate for more pay you spend the price of a bullet and replace them.

        If they want pay, you give them potatoes or maybe if they’re lucky some meat. There’s your wage, comrade! Rejoice at your equality!

  7. The solution is obvious. All professors, regardless of specialty, productivity, or accomplishments, get paid the exact same salary.

  8. “This suggests that the average female professor at University X may be of comparable or higher productivity than the average male professor,”

    WTF? HOW?

    1. Read the previous sentence.

      “In 2019, female academics made up 37 percent of professors in the university’s most productive departments, but only 30 percent of the professors overall.”

      It implies that the most productive departments had more female professors (37 percent), while the overall number of female professors at the university was 30 percent. So that extra 7 percent in the most productive departments implies the women might be more productive. Its a stretch.

  9. So did their scheme to inject more equality in pay fail miseably because they do understand economics and human motivation or because they reject understanding economics and motivation because it does not agree with how they think people should work?

  10. “…because they do not understand economics…”

  11. When a female academic received an outside offer, her current university was less likely to make a counteroffer, “perhaps because it judged that women were less mobile and therefore less likely to leave.” grand rapids electrician

  12. “Showing favorable treatment to employees on the basis of gender has been illegal in the U.K. since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970… In 2016, Essex University closed its gender pay gap by simply giving each female professor a raise of approximately £4,000.”

    Um, am I missing something here?

  13. You mean to tell me that an authoritarian dictate to do one thing actually had the exact opposite effect?

    That’s unpossible.

    Next you’re going to tell me that demanding everyone buy medical
    insurance actually increases the cost of medical care.

  14. Is it possible that these changes truly moved the universities closer to paying by merit – and the result is that women make less?

    There is much less variability in IQ in females. That means fewer female geniuses, and fewer unemployable idiots. It also means that fields that require an above-average intellect to even get through the freshman year will tend to have fewer women, and the women that are in it are more likely to just barely make the minimum requirements, and less likely to be stars – and this will be even worse if the administration has been trying to hire more women.

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