In memory of the mass strike of 1908 by women garment workers in Manhattan, on the 8th of March women across the world celebrate International Women’s Day. As our research fellow and UCU activist wrote recently, such anniversary reminds us how women have always worked, struggled and gone on strike.
This year Women’s day coincides with one of the days of our strike to protect our pensions. As highlighted in the motion voted unanimously at our last General Meeting the massive pension cuts that UUK wants to impose on us will have an overwhelmingly negative impact on women because of a very simple fact: our pension is deferred salary, and women tend to be paid less than men and even more so in HE than in other sectors of the UK economy. Women are indeed the majority among those performing the lower paid jobs in our campuses, often hired into support and teaching-related jobs rather than in tenured full academic positions. They are also the majority among the increasing HE workforce on precarious contracts (fixed-term, hourly paid, fractionalised)-which represent 54% of all academic staff and 49% of all academic teaching staff according to a recent report by UCU national. Women in HE are indeed those who often enter the workplace with lower salaries as compared to their male equivalent; they are usually not encouraged to apply for promotion, and often even within the same they grade, they tend to earn less than their male counterpart, especially when it comes to rewards or ‘bonuses’.
The Gender Pay Gap in academia is around 12.6% (vs. 9.1% across sectors in 2017) and 16.3% in so called ‘elite’ Russell Group institutions. According to World Economic Forum it would take 170 years to erase the gender pay gap! This is mostly because women tend to be segregated in the lower ranks and are still largely under-represented among professorial positions
(nation-wide, while over half of all academics are women, only 23% of professors are women).
Equal pay audits became compulsory from April 2016 for organisations with more than 250 employees. The University of Leeds, like all other large organisations in the UK in compliance with this statutory duty, will soon announce (by the 30th of March) the results of its Gender Pay audit. Our local branch has a well grounded expectation that the local figures will not impress us in positive terms- both compared to the average GPG in the economy and to other Russel group Universities. The UCU local branch is thus preparing a Gender Pay claim, with a letter to the management of this University asking for more detailed analysis and action plans to tackle the gender pay gap in our campus. (All interested members can contribute to write the Gender Pay claim, so watch this space and especially communication from the equality working group after the strike!).
There are many reasons why most women (especially minority ethnic) do not occupy the best paid and rewarded positions in our universities. Often this is the product of a mixture of in/direct gender discrimination; a work culture based on individual’s capacity to work overtime (e.g. long day and weekends); a fierce competition that tends to punish women as part-timers or returnees from maternity leaves, and output-oriented productivity measures, blind to our daily struggles to balance out productive and reproductive duties. Academic institutions, despite their proclaimed ‘inclusive culture’, are still far from practicing parent-friendly flexible policies for a true life-work balance that allows both women and men’s sustainable careers (or even just secure employment!), in the context of complex family lives and raising living costs (exacerbated by significant public cuts, growing debts and the economic and social uncertainty arising from Brexit).
There are also many overlooked intersections (with sexual orientation, disability, but also ethnicity, migration status, contract type) that often get written off the picture when we talk about gender inequality. Our branch rather welcomes very much our national union’s approach to equality “organising and campaigning through the prism of intersectionality” whereby issues like bullying and harassment, discrimination against LGBT and disable workers, work intensification, mental health, casualisation, as well as the growing uncertainty experienced by non-citizen workers, overlap more and more with ‘historical’ women issues. These intersections provide we believe, new terrains for organising as well as unprecedented terrains of commonality among women and other minorities in our campuses.
On this 8th of March strike for pensions we therefore denounce the persisting gender pay gap with our male colleagues in a context of increasing precarisation of work, bifurcated career pathways in the increasingly marketised university, the unequal division of emotional labour where pastoral care for our students is often on the shoulders of female teaching and support staff. We shall also voice our unequal career opportunities, the gendered and raciliased impact of the REF, the gendered nature of the rampant casualisation of employment and the gender effects of the transfer of risk to employees implied by the proposed USS reform. Going beyond systems of mere reporting and auditing, often limited to rewarding high achiever and ‘women leaders’ in male-dominated sections of academia, let’s start with our strike to imagine new ways to build a University where differences are truly taken into account rather than symbolically celebrated: supporting and representing our co-workers challenging discriminatory practices on the ground, working with and beyond institutional policies of ‘inclusion’, promoting sustainable, secure as well as rewarding working lives for women, men and LGBT workers in HE.
Our branch equality officer says:
Finally I would like to informally invite all strikers to join the local demonstration for the rights of detained migrant women in Yarls Wood currently on hunger strike -planned in Leeds for the 8th of March (see this link). As Equality Officer who is a European migrant in this country (with no formal status but privileged to have a permanent contract of employment) on this special women’s day I wish to bring to the fore the conditions of migrant women in HE and beyond: from those extremely disadvantaged by immigration controls such as those in detention, to those women who have for long been monitored by Prevent and the Point Based System for immigration, to the new “precarised” group of workers on insecure contracts who will be especially disadvantaged by Brexit when time will comes to prove their right to reside and work, or meet the ‘income threshold’ to be able to live and work here.
To reclaim our equality now, in the future and throughout retirement, UCU women we-strike! https://www.facebook.com/womenstrike.uk/