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Global Gender Index, 2013

Glass ceiling remains in place for female academics. Jack Grove reports

Feature illustration (2 May 2013)

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As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.”

Barack Obama’s eloquent tribute to the late Baroness Thatcher may have struck a hopeful note, but sadly the glass ceiling remains frustratingly unbroken in academia and elsewhere.

An analysis by Thomson Reuters in association with Times Higher Education shows startling levels of gender inequality in research-intensive universities across the world. The gap persists not just in emerging nations but also in some of the world’s most highly developed countries - where the fight for women’s rights and equality has gone on for decades.

Thomson Reuters collated data provided voluntarily by institutions ranked in the top 400 of THE’s World University Rankings to produce our Global Gender Index. The results highlight a glaring disparity in the ratio of male to female academics in nearly all of the countries assessed.

The widest gender gap is found in Japan, where women make up just 12.7 per cent of the academics at the country’s top-rated universities. It is followed by Taiwan, where only 21.3 per cent of faculty at the nation’s top seven universities are female.

The UK, which has 48 institutions in the survey, fares slightly better, with women making up 34.6 per cent of academic personnel. It is just behind the US, where the figure is 35.9 per cent among 111 representatives.

The problem persists even in Scandinavian countries (often regarded as among the most progressive in the world), such as Sweden (36.7 per cent), Norway (31.7 per cent) and Denmark (31 per cent).

One country, however, comes close to achieving an equal gender split. In Turkey, 47.5 per cent of staff at the top five universities are female.

“Academia is characterised as being cutting-edge, innovative and hypermodern, yet wherever you look it is underpinned by the archaism of male domination,” says Louise Morley, director of the Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research at the University of Sussex. “Why are so many women missing from leading institutions, particularly at senior management levels?”

One reason, she believes, is that the entrenched patriarchal power nexus at universities, with their male-dominated departments, interview boards and academic journal editors, is self-perpetuating. This makes it more difficult for women to attain the critical acclaim and academic capital that might lead to full-time positions, or sabbaticals to further their work.

“There is a cultural climate that favours men,” Morley contends. “Women are not recognised for their talents or abilities and are often forced to do low-level, high-volume administrative work, while many more men assume external-facing roles that have immediate…career gains.”

Another issue is that female academics are often less able to make vital overseas links because they have greater family and personal commitments that can prevent international travel, argues Bahiyah Abdul Hamid, deputy director of the Women’s Leadership Centre at Kebangsaan University in Malaysia.

This can have serious consequences, thwarting their research potential and career prospects at leading universities, she argues.

“Men can achieve higher citations than women partly because they can network internationally,” says Hamid.

Building such contacts is becoming increasingly important to career progression: she cites research showing that journal papers are more likely to be rated highly when they are the result of international collaboration.

Does sexism play a large role in reinforcing academic gender inequality?

Traditional Japanese attitudes towards women in the workplace are one key reason why the country is bottom in our Global Gender Index, insists Susan Burton, associate professor at the Faculty of Foreign Languages at Bunkyo Gakuin University in Tokyo.

“These statistics are not at all surprising,” she says. “They represent the continuing belief in biological determinism within Japanese society - that men are more suited to the public sphere while a woman’s ‘eternal employment’ (eikyu shushoku) is to raise children and keep house.

“Such views are maintained by the old men in politics, such as former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, who has openly stated that women who don’t give birth should not be eligible for the state pension and that the falling birth rate is caused by the ‘over- education of women’.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Interesting and depressing in equal measures. One aspect that seems to be missing is the temporary and part time nature of female academics, even as professors

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