73 of 100 signatures

Open letter

To Professor Koen Lamberts, Vice-Chancellor of the University of York

Re: Gender Pay Gap and Gender Pay Gap Report 2017 (published March 2018)

We, the undersigned, are aggrieved by the Gender Pay Gap at York, by your address which frames the University's Report, and by the often evasive and inadequate Report itself.

While we note the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research's recent initiative to open discussion across the University with regard to the Gender Pay Gap, the publication of the report and its framing have set an unpromising start to addressing the underlying issues. We recognize that you are about to leave York, but this matter is of considerable concern to us and we therefore invite you now to address the points we raise below.

The Gender Pay Gap is cause for real concern as it is symptomatic of injustice at the University of York. Your response lacks moral urgency and fails to recognize the widespread disquiet about the Gender Pay Gap and what it signals about working conditions at York.

It is the injustice of which the Gender Pay Gap is a symptom that we wish to see tackled urgently and with real commitment. We fear the University will engage in a series of 'technical fixes' rather than address the underlying issues. Hence the critical questions: how will management at York address systemic and structural gender bias, rather than treating it as if it were simply due to individual unawareness or ignorance? How will the University address the injustices which burden many of its staff in their everyday working lives? It is the gulf between that persistent injustice and the report's apparent disregard of its human cost that most concerns us.

VC's Introductory Statement

The VC's introductory statement and much of the Report betray a failure to grasp the complexities of institutional gender politics.

The Gender Pay Gap at York should be a matter of shame to the management at our University, as indeed it is to us, the staff. Instead the report is complacent ('Continue the Good Work' p.5). The VC's introductory statement is hastily written (its first sentence simply makes no sense, p.2). Its tenor is better suited to heralding a university achievement ('we continue to embody the principles that make the University of York a great place to work' p.2). It resembles a corporate apology for a readily correctable minor inconvenience, akin to late running buses ('we continually seek new and innovative ways to improve our practice still further' p.2). It underestimates the intelligence, commitment, and political awareness of all staff, particularly the women of the University.

Some colleagues have signed the letter using pseudonyms. This will alert you to the high levels of anxiety and insecurity borne by staff in raising issues of gender in any public forum at the University of York.

Yours faithfully,


What is wrong with the Report

The Report lacks clear authorship. There is no clear responsibility for its content. It appears to be sutured together from various sources, joint efforts, and contributions from hand-picked individuals. This conveys the impression of dodging responsibility, rather than a frank and straightforward acknowledgement of major problems, a determination to address them, and a willingness to accept responsibility and accountability. We would like an explanation of this core failing.

The mean and the median gender pay gap at York are significantly higher than the UK national average. Yet the tone of the report is overwhelmingly complacent and dilatory.

The report offers no time specific action plan to end the gender pay gap (an approach recommended in guidance developed jointly at UK level by unions and employers). Athena SWAN helps address real issues, but it is not designed to address the Gender Pay Gap. Colleagues attest that some departments which have gained Athena SWAN awards continue to suffer from sexist attitudes. Athena SWAN awards are not a substitute for setting our own goals at York, including dates and precise plans for reducing and closing the Gender Pay Gap, and genuinely making the university a place of greater justice.

Despite defining the difference between equal pay and the gender pay gap, the report often conflates the two and implies that the former will solve the latter. Since the Equal Pay Review 2016, little progress has been made: the overall mean Gender Pay Gap has barely decreased (19.71% in 2016).

The Gender Pay Gap is about power and its abuse. It is not exclusively a women's issue. Yet to date, the university has treated it as such. Many male colleagues in the University are deeply concerned about the Gender Pay Gap. Many have significant relevant expertise. Yet the report ignores this and implies that women should clean up the Augean stables. We would like to know why.

There is evidence that many women are afraid to raise gender as an issue in their departments. They fear to be labelled 'difficult citizens' and consequently marginalized. We have witnessed such processes in our departments and beyond, often operating more or less subtly, sometimes over many years. There is nothing in this report or in the 'Strategy' that recognizes such dynamics or that will squarely address or stem them.

Elements of the response appear to be parodic: Eg. 'The significant pay gap (mean) for the Senior Management Pay group can be explained by the majority of the Vice-Chancellor's direct reports being male. With these individuals excluded from the analysis the Mean gap is no longer present and becomes 3.56% favourable to women'.

Employment Culture/s at the University

The Report betrays a political naivete about institutional gender politics. It fails to demonstrate a grasp by University management of the structural issues exposed by the Gender Pay Gap or of their intersectional nature.

b) There is no single unified 'culture at York', as the document repeatedly claims. Across the university some departments and units operate far more equitably than others. The repeated emphasis on the 'York community' as if there is a single, stable, unified, and homogenous community at York (and as if one such were desirable) is tendentious. Both the Gender Pay Gap Report and the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy fail to present a precise analysis of Gender Pay Gap by departments or subject areas. Yet this is necessary if the Gender Pay Gap is to be adequately analysed, addressed, and ended.

c) The report and its framing are compromised by unevidenced claims. For instance, 'the commitment to equality, including equality of pay and reward is embedded in our culture and our policies'. If this were actually true, then there would be no gender pay gap at York. While 'commitment to equality' may be articulated in policies, it is not 'embedded in our culture'. Nor is there a single culture for it to be 'embedded' in. Nor do we regard the pay culture to be 'ours'.

d) There is a naive assumption throughout the Report and stated explicitly in the document (p.6) that greater equality is in everyone's interests. In point of fact, it is not in 'everyone's interests' to close the Gender Pay Gap. Unequal power relations and unequal opportunities do indeed benefit certain groups. The Report avoids this issue. Mere bias training (as proposed) does not address the structured and systemic nature of gender inequality, the power of vested interests, dominant cliques, personal patronage, habitual behaviours, and patriarchal practices. The absence of acknowledgement of these issues causes us concern.

Next step - spread the word

If we can get enough people to sign the open letter, the Vice Chancellor will have to listen. Please share the letter with as many people as you can:

You're signing this as
Not you? Click here

Will you chip in?

Thanks for signing the open letter. Organise is run on a shoestring budget and relies on small donations from people like you. Please chip in to keep Organise online and helping people team up to win the campaigns that matter? You can make a secure donation using this form:

I'm donating £0

Your donation is

One off Monthly

Choose your donation amount

Thanks, we just need a few more details to set up your direct debit.

Change your donation amount

First name
Last name
Your email
Address (line 1)
Town
Your postcode
Account name
Account number
Sort code
Thank you for your donation. Please hold on while we process your details securely.