3. End the gender, race and disability pay gaps with structural reform, and that includes raised and equalised paid parental leave to 26 weeks, not more gendered childcare

The problems

Across UK universities the gender pay gap is 14.8% in 2022, even worse than the appalling UK-wide gap of 11.3%. More than 50 years since the Equal Pay Act 1970, we need to fulfil the universal human right of “equal pay for equal work”. The same goes for the race pay gap, and the disability pay gap. For the gender pay gap, the core structural problem is gendered child care roles. The pay gap soars around the age people begin having families. As endless research shows, the pay gap will only end once we have equal parenting responsibility. The structural causes of gender pay gap (beyond child care), the race pay gap, and the disability pay gap, are multiple but most important are hiring, promotion, and pay practices, and the continuation of outright discrimination.

The solutions

To address the leading cause of the gender pay gap, we need to raise and equalise paid parental leave from the current sector standard of 2 weeks paternity, and 18 weeks maternity, to at least 26 weeks for everyone, without gender divisions. Equal paid parental leave at 26 weeks costs about the same as an increase of just 2% rise in total salary, and the benefits a more equal society are universal. If you vote, we will get equal paid parental leave. At King’s we got a deal to raise paid parental leave to 6 weeks paternity, and 20 weeks maternity, with a view to further rises and equalisation in future years. Universities must be a model for the rest of the UK, Europe and the world, and stop falling behind even private firms that are doing 26 weeks equal paid parental leave already, and Unicef UK that does 52 weeks equal paid leave regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

To undo structural inequality for the gender, race and disability pay gaps, there are a host of further measures. First, we need to ensure that university and college departments aren’t blinded by so called “market” rates that often embed bias, and make sure new appointments and promotions contribute to lowering the pay gaps, not increasing them. Second, we need to ensure interview panels, and representative bodies, look like the communities we live in, not a rerun episode of Dad’s Army. Third, and above all, we need to end the pay gaps by reducing inequality of pay and security overall: the gender, race and disability pay gaps are all higher when pay inequality is higher, and will lower when we replace hierarchy with a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

Three more points are important. Number one: shared parental leave does not work. First, every child deserves to have two parents, not one parent for them, and the other for the employer. Second, you don’t have to trade your holidays with your partner. You get to take them together because they are individual rights. Third, we know that private choice in sharing leave perpetuates social stereotypes: in Sweden where there is 2 years shared, men take roughly one-third, and women two-thirds of shared leave. This keeps the gender pay gap in tact, and we want to end it. We need equal rights, not “shared” rights that are not really rights at all.

Number two: we need free child care. At King’s we campaigned and balloted for free child care support, and as we did the UK government made the surprise announcement that it would introduce 15 hours free in 2024, and 30 hours free in 2025. We must hold the government to this, and ensure there is reform to prevent waste and get fair wages at the 69% of nurseries that are still in the private sector. At King’s we got a deal for 20% child care subsidies at Ofsted registered providers, and UCU should support all local branches to bargain for arrangements on or off campus that work for them.

Number three: existing rights in the Equality Act 2010 are often not enforced. I am horrified by the continued cases of women, often on fixed term contracts, who apply for maternity leave and are told they are redundant. Already in this campaign, I have heard of more stories from supporters who have had this happen to them, and are doing their best but has a union too distracted, and a legal department too under-resourced, to fight for them. At King’s we reversed (at least) two sexist dismissals, and one disability-related dismissal, getting our colleagues’ jobs back after they were told they were fired, and transformed the HR department and the horrific practices that had allowed this to happen. I’ve also acted through the Free Representation Unit in complex race discrimination cases, winning at the Employment Appeal Tribunal, and that is the commitment and knowledge I will bring. If you join our platform, this will end, because I promise UCU will pursue every case necessary to protect our members’ rights, and pursue individuals responsible for discrimination.

How we do it

The concrete measures to achieve change we will take are:

  • sector-wide bargaining for 26 weeks paid parental leave, regardless of gender, and local bargains on top,
  • leading by example through UCU as an employer, raising parental leave to at least 26 weeks regardless of gender (up from the current 24 weeks maternity, and 5 weeks paternity),
  • UCU getting organised, ranking and publicising workplaces that fall behind our equality goals,
  • bargaining university by university, college by college, to overhaul hiring, pay and promotion panels,
  • making full use of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation powers wherever we find patterns of systemic discrimination – particularly sexist dismissals, structural racism, and ablism,
  • lobbying the government to raise and equalise paid parental leave in law, and strengthening the Equality Act 2010 according to our goals.


More reading on the gender pay gap and structural sex discrimination:

  • Women’s Budget Group consultation submission (November 2019)
  • C Goldin, SP Kerr and C Olivetti, ‘When the Kids Grow Up: Women’s Employment and Earnings across the Family Cycle’ (August 2022) NBER Working Paper 30323 (on the effect of unequal parenting and the gender pay gap)
  • S Milner, ‘Bargaining for work–family benefits in the UK’ (2022) 64(1) Journal of Industrial Relations 124 (on collective agreements for raised and equal paid parental leave, with 26 weeks defined as ‘best practice’)
  • Diversity Council of Australia, ‘Workplace Gender Equality Agency, She’s Price(d)less: The Economics of the Gender Pay Gap’ (22 August 2019) 7, identifying parenting (39%), then outright discrimination (39%), and occupational segregation (17%) as major drivers of the gap
  • K Crenshaw, ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color’ (1991) 43(6) Stanford Law Review 1241
  • Stefanko v Martime Hotel and Doherty [2019] IRLR 322 (court case on race and sex discrimination in the Employment Appeal Tribunal)
  • E McGaughey, A Casebook on Labour Law (Hart 2019) ch 7(3) (on child care), ch 12 and 13 (discrimination and disadvantage)