The Silence of Transparency: A Critical Analysis of the Relationship between the Organisational Salary Environment and the Gender and Gender/Ethnic Pay Gap in UK Higher Education
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The UK’s 2017 gender pay gap (GPG) reporting regulations furthered the growing pay ‘transparency agenda’ as a tool to end pay inequality. Yet, discussing one’s pay remains taboo. British universities have faced transparency pressure for years, but higher education’s (HE) GPG and gender/ethnic pay gap persist. To explore this puzzle, an original analytical framework is constructed, which builds upon Acker’s (2006a, 2006b) inequality regimes. The organisational salary environment (OSE) provides this analytical framework, to model the mutually constitutive influence of employer strategies, social norms, and employee behaviour on the capacity of pay transparency to reduce pay inequality. Critical analysis of the pay ‘transparency agenda’ performance inside two British universities involves a multi-layered, multi-strategy approach, including secondary earnings data, an original social pay comparison survey, semi-structured interviews with remuneration policy shapers, union representatives, and academics, alongside organisational pay (and related progression) policies. The empirical findings reveal for the first time that professors are 3.6 times more likely to discuss their pay than junior academics, whose pay is collectively bargained. The OSE analysis unveils a multi-dimensional ‘pay transparency’ paradox. There is a silence of transparency; pay transparency practices serve to legitimise processes that reinforce pay inequality and to individualise inequality concerns as anomalies because of the ‘transparent’ pay practises. The income-talk taboo reinforces managerial control, whilst ‘deviant’ social pay comparison is insufficient to overcome inequality-reinforcing hierarchical power structures. This thesis makes several original contributions, including modelling workplace pay transparency (mal)function through the OSE, which builds on Acker’s (2006a, 2006b) inequality regimes; empirically demonstrating pay discussion patterns and dynamics, filling a gap in the feminist sociological GPG literature by interrogating accepted practices and norms to unveil the ‘pay transparency’ paradox; and developing policy and pay setting implications to strengthen the pay ‘transparency agenda’, both within the UK’s HE sector and across the UK.
AuthorsPfefer, Emily Danielle
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