March 24, 2007

Non-disclosure and hidden discrimination in Higher Education - UK

Findings from an anonymised survey of staff working in ten Higher Education Institutions explored patterns of non-disclosure, showed that staff attitudes to working in HE vary and that harassment is a serious issue to tackle. Equal opportunities training can have the most positive impact on staff perceptions of equal opportunities.

'...The reasons why people chose not to answer one question in a questionnaire, while answering another, is complex. Factors such as fatigue towards the end of a form feature highly. All these questions appeared together towards the end of the questionnaire. However, a final question about union membership which followed these questions had a response rate of over 98 per cent. The complexity of the question may also be a factor. On the other hand, a reasonably complex question on ethnicity also attracted a response rate of 98 per cent.

The content of these questions is important and several of these questions are likely to be considered inappropriate or intrusive by at least some respondents. Most respondents answered the questions on gender and on ethnic background (99 and 98 per cent respectively). Seven per cent of respondents chose not to answer the question regarding religion and belief, while 6 per cent chose not to answer the question on sexual orientation...

Seventeen per cent of respondents reported in the survey that they had personally experienced harassment within the previous 12 months. The incidence of harassment did not vary significantly across the institutions in the sample, ranging from 12 per cent to 22 per cent. The most common form of harassment experienced was unwelcome comments, while the second most common form was verbal assault. Table 6.1 shows the nature and source of harassment, presented as a proportion of respondents who indicated that they had experienced harassment. Of the 17 per cent of respondents who had experienced harassment, 37 per cent had experienced harassment in the form of unwelcome comments from colleagues. Percentages add up to considerably more than 100 per cent because some individuals may have experienced more than one type of harassment, or been harassed by seniors, colleagues and students...

Findings show that:
  • Female and minority ethnic respondents are significantly more likely to be employed on temporary or fixed contracts.

  • The average full-time equivalent salary for male respondents was £32,324, compared with £24,696 for female respondents.

  • Not surprisingly, those on a permanent contract earn a significantly higher salary than those on a temporary contract (average full-time equivalent £29,274 compared with £24,472).

  • The average salary for female respondents was consistently lower, across the different occupational groups, than for male respondents. This pattern is consistent irrespective of the type of employment contract.

  • The average salary for white respondents was £28,342, while the average for minority ethnic respondents was £21,473. Almost a quarter of the small number of minority ethnic respondents earned less than £14,000. The small number of minority ethnic respondents in academic occupations earn significantly less than their white counterparts.

  • A similar pattern to that found for gender seemed to emerge for minority ethnic respondents. Numbers in subgroups are however too small to draw any conclusion. This would need checking with a larger sample, as it may indicate that minority ethnic staff may earn consistently less than their white counterparts across all occupations, and the effect may be compounded for female minority ethnic respondents.

  • Staff attitudes about working in HE are associated with the extent to which their institution cares for them, the support they get from colleagues and managers, and the extent to which they are being developed. Job satisfaction is related to the way staff performance is managed, the level of autonomy and communication, and the amount of stress experienced.

  • Academic participants are the most dissatisfied with the amount of stress they experience. Research participants are more satisfied with their level of autonomy compared with academic participants. Respondents from manual occupations are the least satisfied with the level of autonomy in their job.

  • Administrative and clerical and manual participants who are males are less positive about the extent to which they are being developed compared with their female counterparts. Male manual respondents are also dissatisfied with most aspects of job satisfaction including the way their performance is managed.

  • Respondents with a self-identified disability report higher levels of stress; and, together with those with health problems, are less positive about all aspects of working for their HEI.

  • Those respondents who care for an adult are less satisfied with their level of autonomy and the amount of stress they experience.

  • Seventeen per cent of respondents have personally experienced some form of harassment at work. This is more likely to involve unwelcome comments and verbal assault from senior colleagues, and abusive emails and offensive jokes from colleagues.

  • Incidents of harassment are unlikely to be reported, and those who report them are unlikely to be satisfied with the response of their HEI.

  • Non-academic respondents in technical and manual occupations are more likely to experience harassment at work.

  • Respondents in the middle age group, those who declare a disability or health issue, and respondents with caring responsibilities for children and adults are more likely to experience harassment at work.'
Complete report available online by HEFCE.

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