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Could job sharing solve universities’ big gender pay gap problem? | Emma Watton and Sarah Stables | Education


This year’s Equal Pay Day falls on 14 November. It’s the day women in the UK effectively start working the remainder of the year for free because of the gender pay gap. There are differences between sectors and industries but education is among the worst, with a pay gap of 25.9% as opposed to the national average of 17.9%. This means that a woman employed in education works, on average, 95 days a year without being paid.

This is a problem across the education system, but is particularly bad in leadership. Despite increases in recent years only 27% of university vice-chancellors and chairs of the governing bodies which run universities are women. There is similar underrepresentation of women leading academic faculties and schools.

There are a number of reasons for this. The upper echelons of universities can feel like an old boys’ club, deterring women interested in senior roles. Equally, evidence suggests that women will only apply for a position if they meet all of the criteria. With the increasing complexity of some roles, particularly at senior level, this further limits the number of women applying. Even if women do decide to apply for a senior management role, research shows that they are twice as likely to fail when compared to men.

But perhaps most importantly, women in the UK still lead on the majority of parental and caring responsibilities. This may lead them to accept lower-paid jobs offered on a part-time basis. In fact, women currently fill more than 74% of part-time jobs in the UK.

An obvious solution is to expand leadership job sharing. We shared a senior role in a university for three years, which has informed our academic research into the area. We found that leadership job sharing benefits both the organisation and individuals. Job shares enable organisations to retain talented women and attract new employees. Our job share enabled one of us to spend more time with her young children and the other to study part-time: a single role became tenable for us both when we shared it for three days a week each.

If more roles were advertised as job-share compatible, the pipeline of women holding senior management positions in higher education would be developed. This matters: studies have shown that increasing the number of women in senior roles not only broadens diversity at the top, but improves productivity and innovation.

There are other less obvious benefits to having two people share a role. They can bounce ideas off each other, play to one another’s strengths and collectively shoulder responsibility. This enables them to build complete faith and trust in one another and develop a meaningful mentoring relationship. And this, in turn, can lead to increased self-confidence, which can be a barrier for women applying for senior roles.

Of course, these challenges are not unique to higher education. The most recent figures show that there are 32% of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies, and 27.3% of women on the boards of FTSE 250 companies. While the target of 33% female board representation in FTSE companies by 2020 will likely be reached, we need to aim higher to reach genuine gender equality.

How can organisations get better at job sharing? The government’s 2019 modern families report warned that attitudes must change: we would argue it is neither weak management nor a special favour. Instead, job sharing should be seen as a route to increased business productivity, a valuable leadership development tool and an excellent way to increase employee engagement.

Offering all roles as available as job shares is an important starting point. At present, it is down to whether a role is suitable for job sharing, with management roles less likely to meet the criteria. But job sharing should be rolled out widely across all levels. Having more female role models benefits the next generation of employees (as well as students studying at these institutions), and could be instrumental in addressing equal pay.



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