University can beat the gender pay gap – with confidence | Dr Demetra Katsifli, Blackboard

graduate students celebrating their graduation

Last year the Government announced that the gender pay gap for UK workers had remained static at 19.2 percent. This statistic came in just as the Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan, announced a series of bold measures to tackle gender inequality, pledging to “end the gender pay gap in a generation.” But earlier this year, consultants Deloitte informed us that on current trends it would not be eradicated until 2069 – 99 years after the 1970 Equal Pay Act. Arguably, this issue is too important to be left to politicians.

Some think the gender pay gap is explained by the fact that women are more liable to take career breaks to look after children, while others believe it’s because women typically work in lower-paid industries than men. And then there are those who think it’s somehow due to the different character traits supposedly exhibited by women.

According to American sociologist, Prof Michael Kimmel, men show a remarkable lack of interest in equality issues at work. He says that most initiatives to improve gender equality are driven by women and, if we want to see a real shift, we’re going to need male colleagues to pay more than lip service to this issue.

He makes a valid point. But I believe a huge responsibility lies with the education system. University offers young women their first taste of independence and their first serious consideration for their careers. These vital few years at university present a golden opportunity to learn the skills and character traits needed to make their way up the career ladder.

Employers are likely to offer lower salaries to people who display a lack of confidence, appear overly eager for the job, or fail to negotiate their employment terms. Confidence – traditionally a male attribute – is something that can be instilled, and universities should take a lead on this. Lecturers and university careers advisors need to convince young women that they are skilled enough to achieve their career goals.

In the first place, universities should connect undergraduates with mentors in the business world; for young female students, this means access to inspiring and successful businesswomen. Technology offers an effective means through which to connect student and mentor, and can be used to make online seminars and lectures available to a large group.

Secondly, employability should be at the forefront of the minds of students from the start of their courses; too many undergraduates don’t think about their options after university until the second or even third years. Students must be helped to focus on their future employability, and advised on ways to increase it.

There is now a wealth of technology available to help students record evidence of their skills from the moment they enroll. Students should capture all such evidence as early as possible so that when they come to apply for work experience or for jobs, they can see how well they match the criteria – then they can easily provide the necessary evidence to illustrate why they are the best person for the job. This in turn will give them the conviction to face an interview situation with confidence.

There are so many easy ways to capture the bigger picture of a person – personal feedback from lecturers, academic achievements, special prizes, clubs & societies, volunteering and work experiences, languages, skills, competencies and recommendations.

Students should be able to use the information to compose a personal profile that will differentiate them from other job hunters. If they start a personal profile from the very beginning of a course of study, they can ensure that evidence of all important skills and achievements are captured throughout their journey. A profile that puts the “meat on the bones” as it were and no longer shows a list of grades but a real person with work experience, resources and a personality.

Of course, this call to action is not specific to women – these initiatives will benefit any graduate stepping into the employment world for the first time – but for women this would be an invaluable confidence boost.

World-Class leaders like Hilary Clinton, Theresa May and Angela Merkel provide inspiring examples in the argument for equal pay. And what these figures have in common – apart from being women – is that they have had the opportunity of world-class training and education. With the democratisation that comes with digital technology, that opportunity is open to all.

About the author:

Dr Demetra Katsifli is the Senior Director of Industry Management at Blackboard.

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