Lucy Heller is one of the highest-paid women in education and, as chief executive of the Ark academy chain, has been keen to ensure that women get a fair deal in her organisation. So she was surprised when the Ark gender pay gap report revealed a mean gap of 14.1 per cent and a median gap of 18.4 per cent.
“I was disappointed,” she says. “I had comfortably assumed we would have a zero pay gap, or if anything, we’d have a gap in the opposite direction.”
In fact, Ark’s figures are smaller than the average size of the mean gap of 18.8 per cent and median gap of 27.4 per cent in the schools and trusts that had reported by 20 March.
At Ark, which runs 35 schools, two-thirds of staff in the upper quartile of pay are women and the total is 71 per cent in the upper-middle quartile. But an even bigger proportion of lower-paid jobs are taken by women – 81 per cent in the lowest quartile – so a gender pay gap has been created across the organisation.
Heller, who earned a total pay and benefits package of £205,630 in 2016, says that she is confident that men and women at Ark get the same pay for the same job, and hopes no one feels underpaid for their specific role.
She notes that this means the gender pay gap at Ark is structural – women are disproportionately represented in lower-paid jobs. And one thing the organisation does do is “grow its own” staff, ensuring that teaching assistants are given the opportunity to train as teachers, for example.
“Part of the point of this, particularly for schools, is to do with education,” she says. “Making sure girls have a strong sense of the world being open to them and not being directed into traditionally female area any more than you’d want men to be directed at the areas that are traditionally male.
“This is why we spend so much time getting women into Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths subjects), where pay is higher. Life isn’t only about how much you earn, but we want to encourage everybody to make the best use of their talents and not be stereotyped.”
She adds that the gender pay gap-reporting legislation will be “hugely useful” in moving society towards more equal pay.
“On the whole, what gets measured, gets done. Forcing companies and organisations to look at what they are doing and say it publicly forces them to pay attention,” says Heller.
“We want to end up in a situation where everybody feels they have real choices about their life, and that if you are career-driven, that you are absolutely on an even path with your male counterparts, but equally, that you are free to decide otherwise.”