Katie Moore and Laura Shand, Women’s Officers

Here is the latest blog post from Katie and Laura:

The Women in our University

by Laura Shand

For International Women’s Day 2022 our VC Simone Buitendijk wrote a piece published in The Medium on how those in leadership roles could work to uplift women academics. In the article, it was discussed how these women experience a number of interrelated issues that blight their careers, among these sexism and bias, a lack of progression (frequently due to child and caring commitments), and sexual harassment.

While it is true and deplorable women academics in our institutions experience any of the above, Drs and Professors are only a part of the working women that make up our university. Within the University of Leeds, women workers can be found in all its diverse areas: in IT, in our Estates and Facilities services, among its support staff, its cleaners, its Student Education Staff, its caterers, and its librarians. Altogether these women are essential to the running of the university, and it would simply not operate without their hard work and dedication. Many of these women have also experienced working lives affected by bias and many have also experienced the personal trauma and professional ostracization that result from sexual harassment.

Within the Medium article, Simone quite rightly points toward the additional layer of bias that Black women academics experience, and in keeping with this intersectional analysis it is imperative we also highlight the financial implication of class, of how women on lower pay grades are coping with the current cost of living crisis. It is women that dominate low-paid work and that are over-represented on precarious, fixed term, and part time contracts both inside and outside of HE. Most employees at the university have experienced an effective pay cut for the last 12 years with daily budgeting becoming increasingly difficult; for lower grade employees – and consequently for many women – this squeeze is being felt even more acutely. A pay rise of 1.5% while inflation is set to rise 5.5%; NI by 1.25% and energy bills by 50% is not good enough. The choice for many women has been, and will continue to be, whether to heat their homes or feed their families.

Some headline statistics from the Living Wage Foundation’s report: Low Paid Work and Cost-of-Living Crisis Disproportionately Affecting Women

  • ‘A fifth of women in work (20.4%) are paid below the real Living Wage, approximately 2.9m people, compared to 14 percent of men (1.9 million).’
  • That during the current cost of living crisis ‘42 percent of low-paid women had fallen behind on household bills, compared to 35 percent of low-paid men and that 35 percent of low-paid women had skipped meals regularly for financial reasons, compared to 29 percent of low-paid men’.

It is for this reason, among many, that UNISON stands side by side with other trade unions such as UCU and Unite in supporting all women in the university and fighting for fair pay alongside protection from sexism and harassment. Together we work to uplift all the women in our university.