At a university where money equals success, appearances are everything. Appearances to impressionable, prospective students who fill the coffers. Appearances to academic staff whose work dictates yearly rankings. Appearances to a country that is largely suspicious of higher education.
The University of Sydney likes to appear committed to gender equality in its workplace. There are flashy webpages and glowing announcements that paint an endearing picture. However, new data revealed to Honi creates a dimmer picture and necessitates critique of the University’s messaging.
There is a gender pay gap at the University of Sydney. In fact, the university’s own website admits this. What isn’t clear in the publicly-available data is the extent of this gap. This is despite the data being held by management, evident in the commitments made in the 2018-2021 enterprise agreement with the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).
Data held by the University, revealed to Honi upon request, demonstrates the extent of this wage gap. In 2021, men made on average 7.7% more than women at the University of Sydney.
This gap has reduced from being 11.4% in 2019 and 9.4% in 2020. The pay gap at the University is also marginally lower than the pay gaps in the tertiary education sector, which is 8.4% sector-wide, and 13.8% nationwide.
The pay gap as it stands still has significant implications for women. The compounding effect of this gap over a woman’s career means less financial stability, less money saved for retirement and the litany of consequences which accompany this. When this data was revealed to staff in an internal announcement in October last year, management merely conceded that “there is more work to be done” without committing to any substantial action. The data was also compared to the national average instead of the more appropriate industry average in an attempt to amplify the self-congratulations.
Outgoing Convenor of the Women’s Collective and SRC Women’s Officer, Maddie Clark told Honi that these statistics reflect the wage gap we see across the board, where women are paid less than men in the same industries and the jobs.
“The University is increasingly acting like a business so it is no surprise that they too are guilty of underpaying female workers. This also reflects the university’s other money making schemes; their rampant casualisation and restructuring.”
Workplace Gender Equality Report
Each year, non-government organisations who employ over 100 people are obligated to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). Analysis of the data, as offered by the WGEA data explorer tool, shows that 2021 was a bad year for gender equity across many significant metrics, with minor improvements in other areas.
Women have consisted of the majority of the University’s employees since 2014, as typical of the sector. In 2021, women made up 53.7% of the workforce, an increase of 0.1% from the previous year and 2% since 2017. The number is almost identical for casual workers (53.8% female), although greatly varied to part-time workers (76.2% female).
Concerningly, the majority of managers (54.2%) are still male. These results are even worse among what the WGEA defines as ‘senior managers’ where the figures amount to 59.1% of senior management consisting of men, increasing from 58% a year prior. Among Directors (Board Members and Chairs), men make up 53.3% of the workforce. This is down on last year, but higher than the University’s best in 2018 when women made up the majority (60%) of directors for the first time. The University does not have a target for the gender composition of the governing bodies; However, the fact that it does not control who is appointed to the University Senate is provided as a justification.
Beneath the surface, however, changes to the composition of the workplace have left women disadvantaged. In 2021, resignations by female staff made up 63.4% of total resignations, the worst proportion recorded so far (data is not available pre-2016). Promotions are also at their lowest level in years. 55.4% of promotions were given to women in 2021, which is also the lowest in the years where data is available. In the last six years, only 2018 saw a lower percentage level of appointments of women than in 2021, at 57.7%.
Notable positive changes to workplace gender equity policy in 2021 include carer’s leave being offered for the first time as an informal flexible work option. In response to family and domestic violence, the University is now offering training to HR staff, referral to support services and financial support – as outlined in the University’s 2020-21 WGEA Compliance Program report.
Damningly however, a change of office location is no longer being offered for family and domestic violence.
There is also an accountability problem for the university on this issue. While WGEA is able to compel reports as a method of accountability, it is alarming that it was so difficult to research for this article. The University has access to gender pay data; it should publish it in as clear a way as possible.
The University has a webpage allocated to WGEA reports. There, you can find the 2018/19 report and 2019/2020 version. The 2020/2021 report is not there, despite it being submitted in July of last year. The fact that the format of the report has changed this year should not excuse the fact that it is now more difficult to locate these reports.
Women’s Collective Co-Convenor Monica McNaught-Lee told Honi: “The University’s lack of transparency around WGEA reports makes it very clear they do not actually care about rectifying any kind of gender pay disparity or workplace policies that disadvantage women and gender diverse employees.”
This article has revealed some fairly concerning information. The University has a considerable pay gap that keeps women from achieving the same financial stability that their male counterparts enjoy. Women are leaving in higher proportions than in years, and it’s not hard to see why; they aren’t receiving the same promotions and aren’t being appointed at the same rates.
Staff are likely going on strike in the next few weeks. Among the NTEU’s demands are menstrual, menopausal and gender affirmation leave. These changes would tangibly improve the experience of women and gender minorities at the University.
According to Clark, the only solution is industrial action.
“By students supporting staff going on strike we can end the pay gap and empower female and other workers.”
There is a fundamental struggle here. An institution such as the University of Sydney, whose existence aims to serve the public good, needs to be better at disclosing key information to the public. When they reveal it to staff, they ought to represent this information more honestly.