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Gender and ethnicity pay gaps, and equality

The gender and ethnicity pay gaps at King's College, London are a scar on our reputation as a university committed to equality, diversity and inclusion.This page covers (1) the pay gaps at KCL, (2) measures to end them including child care and recruitment reform, and (3) your rights to equal treatment in the Equality Act 2010.


(1) KCL's pay gaps by faculty

The continuation of average pay gaps, based on gender, race, or any other protected and intersecting characteristics is inconsistent with our duties under the Equality Act 2010. In 2020, by faculty, the pay gaps according to KCL's own data were as follows:

KCL Faculty

Gender pay gap

Ethnicity pay gap

Arts & Humanities

89 p in £1

85.2 p in £1


72.6 p

73.3 p


78.6 p

94.2 p

Natural, Mathematical & Engineering Sciences

83.7 p

90.6 p

Social Science & Public Policy

84.4 p

84.1 p


98.9 p



81.5 p

85.7 p

Life Science & Medicine

79.9 p

84.3 p

Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

70.9 p

82.8 p

These gaps compare to a gender pay gap of 84.9 pence in the pound (or 15.1%) for the university sector as a whole, and 82.1 pence in the pound (or 17.9%) UK wide. Worse still, the average post-retirement earnings of men and women, the ‘gender pension gap’, was a stunning 40.3% in 2019 for the UK as a whole. Data is unavailable for university pensions. Every pay gap is unacceptable. Fifty years after the first equal pay and race discrimination legislation, it's time to end this now.


(2) Measures to end the pay gaps

Despite important rights in the Equality Act 2010 against direct and indirect discrimination, as well as powers for employers to take positive action, there are at least three main things that the law has as yet failed to do, and we need to do as a university:

  • end the systematic sex discrimination in child care, where women risk falling behind in career progression and take a disproportionate child care role - we need to raise paid parental leave for everyone, and remove gender distinctions;
  • ensure that every parent has access to free child care, paid for by employers, so that no parent needs to choose between work and their loved ones;
  • end so called "market" rates of pay that embed conscious or unconscious bias, and exacerbate gender and ethnicity pay gaps, through better recruitment, promotion, shortlisting or advertising practices.
The failure to tackle child care discrimination, and the systematic bias in so called "market" functioning (which usually comes down to perpetuating social stereotypes) are key to ending the pay gaps, and what needs to be confronted directly, openly, and honestly.

A well-publicised intiative, known as "Athena Swan" contains many positive features, but it has been found that "there is no evidence that Athena SWAN membership and award level have any impact" on "the gender pay gap and the proportion of women in the top quartile of pay". The single greatest determinant of the gender pay gap is, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, is child birth:

This is wrong, and it needs to change by bringing everyone's child care rights into the 21st century. At the same time we need to ensure that our university looks like the community we live in, and that everyone has fair pay and equality at work. 


(3) Rights to equal treatment

While collective bargaining and votes at work are the best ways to bring a real end to the pay gaps, we all have a series of statutory rights to equal treatment in the Equality Act 2010. This requires that at work, an employer or any manager, may not unjustifiably discriminate against you on the grounds protected in the Act: these are sex, race (including our colour, ethnicity or nationality), disability, age, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religion or belief, and marriage or civil partnership status. In addition, it may be unlawful to discriminate at common law on grounds that are an irrational basis for decisions, such as our class, accent or caste. By banning unjustified discrimination, the law's goal is that we make decisions at work based on the content of people's character, not irrelevant factors.

There are three main types of unlawful discrimination:

  • direct discrimination: where you are treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic (e.g. you are paid less, get fewer benefits, made redundant, or dismissed because of pregnancy or sex). To succeed you have to prove facts from which a reasonable person could infer that there was discrimination: the burden of proof then switches to the employer. There are exceptions: a particular characteristic could be a genuine requirement for that job (e.g. a woman actor for a theatre role - this is highly unlikely at universities) and direct age discrimination can be justified based on organisational need (e.g. retirement ages set to give different generations an equal chance);
  • indirect discrimination: where an employer has a neutral policy, but this puts a protected group at a particular disadvantage (e.g. an employer's hiring policies appear to privilege white men). An employer may argue that a neutral practice is justified by being proportionate to achieve some legitimate organisational or business aim;
  • failing to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people: employers have a positive duty to include people with different physical or mental health needs. A disability is usually a longer term condition that may hinder us in professional life, if an employer fails to to properly accommodate us.

An employer may always engage in 'positive action' (as opposed to positive discrimination or affirmative action seen in South Africa or India) that ensures equal interview spaces, proactive advertising or other measures short of quotas to redress historical under-representation, and if there are two candidates that are equally qualified, an employer may choose on the basis of which groups are under-represented (the "tie break" rule). However, in representative positions (such as in boardrooms) employers can have quotas, e.g. to ensure gender parity.

KCL UCU opposes all unlawful discrimination, and also the use of non-disclosure agreements: these have become widespread, to conceal the persistent pay gaps, unlawful behaviour, and instances of shocking discriminatory conduct. Sadly this is still a reality at KCL, with an isolated minority of people in managerial positions or in "HR".

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