Gender Pay Gap and the stories organisations tell – week 3 – 24/03/18

This week more gender pay gap reports were released, including at Northumbria University as the deadline for publication looms large. The process of reporting gender pay gaps is revealing some expected outcomes and also some results that invert the traditional narrative. The mean and median pay gap reporting across all submitted reports to date (24/03/18) shows a mean pay gap of 13.3% and a median pay gap at 11.7%. This presents us with a familiar story and one that is not surprising. As a general rule, men are occupied in higher paid positions across the country than women (74% of companies). This is not the story in every organisation and there are clear examples of large pay gaps in favour of women (15% of companies).

One story this begins to tell us is that some sectors may favour women in the same way the majority favour men. In an ideal world, it could be argued that all professions should be gender neutral or within an acceptable range of difference (what this acceptable range could be depends on the pay scales and remuneration differentials in place at an organisation). I believe that a structure of consistent, equal representation at all levels of an organisation, both power and pay, would breed a  culture of mutual respect between people and appreciation of our differences. There is also a strong economic argument as forecasts based on coordinated gender equality measures suggest GDP per capita is estimated to increase by 6-10% relative to the baseline by 2050 (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2017). We are all familiar with the risks of forecasting, but many investors trust economic models for company growth so it stands to reason that this narrative should also bear serious consideration.

From my perspective there should be no reason for any vocation, or profession to favour one gender over another. In Higher Education, the leaky pipeline phenomenon clearly points to a sector problem and one which we should be able to affect. Men currently  dominate the upper echelons of university academia and it is difficult to imagine this changing radically any time soon without radical action. The pinch point of the pipeline occurs between undergraduate and post graduate study, but the clear point of divergence is between Faculty Academic (Lecturer) and Professor. Here is where volume skews and the narrative shifts. Here is where the story of leadership ends for many women, yet continues with increasing success for men. Here is where the dystopic meets reality.

Leaky pipeline

Considering the dystopic reality, my reading this week continued on the theme of method with Kuhn and Popper as competing methodological muses. I have become more convinced of my preference for Popper’s revolutionary argument that ‘…we approach everything in the light of a preconceived theory.’ (Popper, 1970 p52) Set against the framework of masculine privilege, I have started to frame our preconceived theory of organisational normality as a similar restrictive framework to the prevailing scientific theories that scientists work within as per Kuhn’s ‘Normal Science‘.  My question has become centred around the mechanisms and pathways to enable the oppressed to break free from this reality.

With the concept of change and collective movements in mind, my reading of Paulo Freire’s ‘The Pedagogy of Hope’ has directed my thinking towards a clearer appreciation of contextual factors which may influence women in their careers. Freire states that ‘hope, as an ontological need, demands an anchoring in practice’ (Freire, 2014 p2) it is this dependent relationship between hope and reality that interests me when applying dystopian models of subversion to organisational reality. Freire’s describes a seminal moment in his formative years as an educator in Brazil and Chile which stayed with him and informed his later actions. He was touring series of talks to local communities with the intention of sharing his findings concerning corporal punishment between parents and children. His external analysis had found that parents in some inland communities were more inclined to punish their children more severely than parents in coastal communities. Sharing his findings with the intent of educating and raising awareness, he speculated as to the cause and welcomed questions from the audience. The response of a parent from the audience shifted his thinking on the subject of pedagogy and change initiatives.

The parent started by describing the house and environment he envisaged that Freire inhabited, one of relative privilege, but not ludicrously wealthy. They then described their own living conditions of abject poverty with chaos, hunger and exhaustion at the end of the working day. This was a reality of despair in the absence of hope, yet still this parent attended the talk. The message concerning overly harsh punishment of children was necessarily sidelined in the mind of Freire in the context of the oppressive forces that impacted on these communities every day. Sheer survival was the abiding motivation and any means of achieving this were deemed acceptable. This message has resonated with me and I believe it is absolutely vital to consider and adapt to the influences of context when evaluating the actions and outcomes of people in society.

What I have taken from this example is that my privileged position as the academic investigator of gender inequity in leadership is one I cannot dream to effectively articulate without appreciation of the reality for the women I am identifying as oppressed. Their oppression in my framing relates to the barriers evidenced in University contexts to senior leadership, or ‘what we are doing to them’. One factor I continually return to is fertility, with pregnancy and career transitions forming a primary pathway for many mothers. I feel this strikes to the heart of female oppression within the current paradigm and colours the reality of many women as their career progression stalls on the brink of senior leadership. I cannot prove this yet and it is beginning to form part of my ontological assumption on this area. The multitude of variables affecting this ‘leaky pipeline’ phenomenon is something I need to understand to be able to apply my dystopian method. As the next week progresses, I will continue to read about pedagogy and how we can support meaningful change in higher education and I will retain a healthy critical mind when restraining myself from academic indulgences in


Freire, P. (2014). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Kuhn, T. S., Lakatos, I., & Musgrave, A. (1970). Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Criticism and the growth of knowledge.