Women scientists get paid less than men

The gender pay gap has been an issue in many industries, and now science has joined them.

Sesha Subramanian
21st February 2019
Image from Argonne National Laboratory (Flickr)

 In April 2018, Nature published a study which revealed that organisations within the science industry, including pharmaceutical companies and universities, maintain a gender pay gap that is higher than the national average.

Gender pay gap refers to the difference in average hourly wage of men and women across a workforce. It’s different from unequal pay where men and women get paid different amounts for the same job – that has been illegal in the UK since 1970.

The United Kingdom became, in 2017, one of the few countries where any organisation with more than 250 employees was required to provide details of how much they pay their employees, and what differences exist between men and women in that particular organisation.

The study by Nature, which examined the gender pay gap among scientific organisations, had two major findings – firstly, that science employers favoured a median pay difference of 15% in favour of men (the national average is 10%) and secondly, that one of the reasons for the pay gap is the lack of women in senior positions in academia.

One of the main reasons there is a lack of women in senior positions is that in general, there are less women who are interested in careers in science. That in turn, has its roots in many myths about the industry – the most prevalent one being that science is a male dominated industry. As a child, when there is only the odd female scientist being celebrated as a revolutionary in a sea of male scientists, there is then a slow, creeping feeling that success in science comes much easier for men than it does for women. Hence, girls can become disinterested from an early age when it comes to pursuing a career in science.

Another reason for the pay gap could be that early researchers feel that there is not much job security in science fields. “It tends to have an effect on those who feel less confident, or those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, that sense of precariousness and not knowing what the next steps are will likely push more women, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, out of science” says Lauren Couch, head of diversity and inclusion for the Wellcome Trust.

Encouraging women to apply for promotions and positions also needs to be a key part of any science company or university strategy for closing down on the gender pay gap. Of course, there are some short term fixes, like bumping up the salaries of women employed by the organisation, but it is the long-term development that matters. Addressing some of the key issues could be a step forward in the right direction.

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