Friday, April 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Students Boycott Principal’s Drinks Over “Sexist” Comments

Principal Layzell’s Annual Student Reception is facing a boycott over the comments that he made about the gender pay gap on campus, which were revealed by Orbital Magazine last month.

A number of students who have been invited are boycotting the reception unless the Principal apologises for his comments. They are calling for other students who have been invited to follow them in boycotting and calling for pay equality and transparency at Royal Holloway.

The drinks reception which is to be hosted on February 19 is usually attended by the Presidents’ of the clubs, societies and media outlets of the Students’ Union, as well as other students who have enriched music or residential life on campus.

Despite having the seventh worst gender pay gap at professorial level in the country, Prinicpal Layzell claimed that the university has a “transparent and fair pay system”.

In a recording of his last Staff Open Meeting, which Orbital gained access to last month, Professor Layzell claimed that “there are certain protected groups where there is a natural tendency to not have a go and put themselves in for promotion – sometimes that’s gender, sometimes it’s the BAME group.”

A spokesperson for the University College Union (UCU) said: “UCU is aware of female and minority ethnic staff who have left the college to gain the recognition they deserved.”

Abby King, President of the Labour Society is one of the Presidents’ who have organised the boycott.

She commented: “In response to Paul Layzell’s comments regarding the gender pay gap at Royal Holloway, we are boycotting the drinks reception for society presidents. Further to this, we call for public acknowledgment and retraction of the disappointing and misguided comments made by the Principal, and for a pledge of action to address the issues.”

The Open Letter that the students are asking students to sign to send to the Principal, reads:

Dear Paul Layzell and College Management,

We are writing this letter to you as students of Royal Holloway to inform you about our decision to boycott the RHUL drinks reception for Student Group Presidents due to Mr. Layzell’s comments regarding the gender pay gap during the Staff Open Meeting in November which prompted the article “Sexism Storm Surrounds Royal Holloway Principal” in The Orbital. We should not have to resort to boycotting events in order to get the Principal to listen, apologize or treat our academics fairly.

The Principal’s comments, particularly the suggestion that women and BME individuals have a “natural tendency to not have a go and put themselves in for promotion” fail to take into consideration the obstacles these named groups face within academia. His implication that women are lacking “the confidence to go in for promotion” suggests that some gendered fault- or “tendency”, as he stated- is restricting them.

These are by no means new issues; in 2010 Professor Liz Schafer took Royal Holloway to an employment tribunal challenging the gender pay gap. The work of Prof. Schafer, as well as initiatives such as the 2014 The Enabling Women Academics through the Promotion Process “which aimed to increase the proportion of female professors” within the College have been undermined by Mr. Layzell’s comments.

His assertion that there is “equal pay for work of equal value” is clearly not being reflected at Royal Holloway, which has seen an increase in the gender pay gap to 10.01%* amongst professors during the last academic year.

The refusal to acknowledge the existence of institutional sexism, coupled with the silence following the reporting of the comments has angered not only students but staff. We reject such thinking, and call for public acknowledgment and retraction of the disappointing and misguided comments made by Mr. Layzell. We want to see concrete commitment to the reduction of the pay gap at Royal Holloway, and recognition of the significance that the Principal plays in bringing this about. We await his apology.

Yours Faithfully,

All Presidents have been invited to sign the open letter via email.