Taking action on gender pay inequality in the library and information sector

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Nick Poole, Chief Executive, CILIP CILIP, Salary survey 2019

Each year, the Sue Hill/TFPL salary survey provides a vital insight into the forces that shape the library, information and knowledge profession. This insight is vitally important to CILIP as we work with employers, practitioners and learning providers in more than 20 industry sectors to develop our overall workforce strategy.

There are many important themes emerging from this year’s data. For example, we continue to see increased diversification of roles, with information professionals increasingly expected to know about issues like information governance, knowledge management and Data Protection. The findings around Local Authorities and public libraries confirm our experience that this sector in particular (along with school libraries) continue to bear the brunt of 8 years of austerity and cuts.

For me, though, the most pressing issue in this year’s data is what it tells us about the persistent gender pay gap in our profession.

The Office of National Statistics defines a gender pay gap as “the difference between average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men and women as a proportion of average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men’s earnings. For example, a 4.0% gender pay gap denotes that women earn 4.0% less per hour, on average, than men”.

Since 2018, CILIP has supported the #PledgeforParity campaign – an important cross-industry initiative as part of International Women’s Day to adopt the universal principle that the only fair future is one in which both sexes are paid on equal terms for equivalent work.

According to figures compiled by the BBC in April 2019, the median pay gap by sector across 18 sectors in 2018 was 9.6%. TFPL’s figures show an overall gender pay disparity (weighted to allow for the different incidence of part time working between men and women) of £7,732 in favour of men. Although it isn’t a precise science (which is part of the problem), this would put the gender pay gap in our sector somewhere between 10-15% - higher than the overall national average. For balance, the official figures for ‘Libraries and related professions’ provided by the ONS estimate our gender pay gap at 8.3%.

Although there is some more positive news, in that the reported pay gap in the corporate library and information sector is slightly in favour of women, this is offset by a bigger picture which shows that the overall pattern remains true no matter how many years of experience people have.

This, again, is at odds with the national picture, in which the gender pay gap for 18-39 year-olds tends to be much lower (commonly nearer to zero), increasing significantly from the age of 40. The clear implication is that other than in the corporate sector, there is a systemic problem in how women’s work is acknowledged and rewarded in our profession.

We know from the BBC data this year that despite new legislation requiring companies to publish gender pay gap data, fewer than half (45%) had succeeded in closing their average gender pay gap – despite countless initiatives and commitments made in the preceding years.

So what are the factors driving the gender pay gap in libraries and information and what can sector employers do to change this picture?

I think the first thing to do is to dig into the data to find out what corporate library and information services are doing that has reversed this picture. With an apparent median pay gap of 2.6% in favour of women, it seems that this sector is outperforming other sector employers in addressing the issue.

This may be, of course, because corporate-sector employers in general have been more proactive in taking targeted action to reduce their pay gap. However, the figures point towards a deeper set of issues, highlighted in a 2018 article in CILIP’s Information Professional magazine, in which Libraries APPG Chair Gill Furniss wrote;

The gender pay gap has stagnated for years, and whilst it is slowly closing, it has slowed or even widened in some areas. Jobs in ‘feminine’ industries such as cleaning and childcare have traditionally been less well remunerated than jobs in ‘masculine’ industries such as construction and technology.

Entrenched gender assumptions can cause prejudice, and prejudice can cause discrimination. Then there is also the issue of role models, for if women do not see other women occupying managerial positions, they will be less likely to put themselves forward. This attitude is changing but it will take a very long time for these harmful practices to be reversed fully.

The large majority of information professionals and library workers are women. However, we know that relatively few are in managerial positions, and we know that many information positions are voluntary. Women make up the majority of the voluntary industry.

It is possible that more women, particularly older women, are overlooked for paid positions. Women also hold more part-time roles and so are less likely to progress to the top of their career. Politics is evolving and I welcome the widening discourse on tackling harassment in the workplace. But this too needs to happen at a faster pace so that women can feel like they are not imposters in their own places of work."

Other leading women in libraries and information services point to issues such as a culture of complacency over gender pay disparity in the sector, a lack of transparency over pay reporting and an underlying risk of ageism in the way employers present opportunities to their employees.

More generally, the data shows that professions with a predominantly female workforce tend to pay less – accounting for around 51% of the gender pay gap across all industries. The net result is that women working in predominantly female professions tend to be less financially secure and significantly behind men in terms of what they are able to save towards their retirement costs.

Some commentators point to the differences in negotiating styles between men and women when it comes to pay. An interesting publication Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide (Babcock & Laschever, Princeton University Press, 2004) offers some useful insights into the different strategies used by the sectors, and also by women in the corporate sector – possibly pointing towards one reason for the difference highlighted in the Sue Hill/TFPL data.

Across all sectors, it seems that transparency over pay is essential to narrowing the pay gap. This is one reason why the Sue Hill/TFPL research is so important – it provides a resource enabling women in the sector to check whether the pay deal they are being offered is commensurate with the market rate for their skills and experience.

At CILIP, we believe that we have to work with employers to help them deliver on their commitment to reducing the gender pay gap to zero. There is no reason why our sector shouldn’t commit to being an exemplar of good practice on this issue, despite the wider societal and systemic issues which doubtless contribute to it.

This is just one of the many important insights to be drawn from the Sue Hill/TFPL Salary Survey. CILIP has been proud to work with the team to promote the survey and we will actively be using it to inform our work with sector employers in the years ahead.

I hope you will take the time to read the results and reflect on what they say about the opportunities for your career progression in the library and information sector. Securing the future of our profession depends on being able to attract, retain and develop high-quality talent in all industry sectors, and these figures will help us to achieve this goal.

Note: Although not formally required to publish Gender Pay data, CILIP did so in 2018. According to these figures, our median gender pay gap was 0% and the mean (excluding the CEO) was 3.4%.