Raise for female faculty to correct salary inequity

The University of British Columbia in Canada is offering all full-time female faculty a 2% salary raise in an effort to correct gender-based salary inequities.

In a memo sent to all academics on 21 January, the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) administration and faculty association explained that the salary adjustment would address what the university interprets as “systemic discrimination”.

According to an internal analysis of salaries of full-time tenured or tenure-track professors, women are paid less on average.

“After accounting for the factors of under-representation of females at the full professor level, experience, and differences in the gender balance across departments, a pay differential of 2% remained, that could only be explained by gender,” the memo stated.

UBC’s rare move comes as the state of women in the academy in Canada has received increased attention in media and research.

In a major report by the Council of Canadian Academies released in late 2012, a panel chaired by York University President Emeritus Dr Lorna Marsden argued that despite two decades of women outnumbering men on university campuses they continue to face sexism in recruitment, advancement and pay.

The report was commissioned by the federal government in 2010 after no women were appointed to the prestigious Canada Excellence Research Chairs programme.

The price tag for UBC’s across-the-board raise is estimated at C$2 million (US$2 million) this year, but could end up costing more as the raise is retroactive to 1 July 2010. The decision came after an internal review of pay differentials was undertaken by volunteer researchers connected to the faculty association.

Dr Leila Harris, assistant professor with the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, expressed her appreciation to the professors who volunteered to conduct the research.

“People spent hundreds of hours of time on weekends and nights on top of their other responsibilities to do the analysis,” said Harris, who recently became involved in the faculty associations’ committee on the status of women.

“These are women who have very strong research careers. It should be part of someone’s regular duties.” She noted that the UBC administration was very supportive of the project throughout.

The analysis calculated the overall difference in pay between all male and female professors as $14,000 on average. But once the fact that women are better represented in the lower-paid associate and assistant ranks was taken into consideration, the gap was calculated to be $3,000 on average. Also, some male-dominated disciplines, such as business, tended to be paid higher.

Harris believes that these two factors suggest other forms of subtle discrimination. “Both of those distinctions also have important gender dimensions. Why are women not being promoted more quickly?” she asked. "Why do we value some male-dominated disciplines over others where there is stronger female representation?”

Other Canadian universities have distributed salary adjustments to female faculty. However, UBC is unique in its move to give an across-the-board pay hike to all faculty.

Simon Fraser University, for instance, launched a review in the 1990s that considered each professor case-by-case. “The review became a burden for the professor and the administration,” said Dr Veronica Dahl, a recently retired computer science professor. “And for many cases it was an exercise in justifying the original salary decisions.”

Dr Catherine Murray, a communications professor at Simon Fraser University, added that no university had addressed how being underpaid for years impacts women’s pensions.

“One of the vexed questions in public sector pay equity in general is the issue of intergenerational equity, and retroactive pension correction,” she wrote in an email. “This is surely one of the issues that has to be addressed, and no university has done so yet in British Columbia.”