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Gender survey of UK professoriate, 2013

Just one in 10 at the grade is female at some institutions, Hesa shows

Female university lecturer in lecture hall

Source: Alamy

Minority report: women make up 45 per cent of non-professorial academics but it is men who still dominate at professor level

Universities’ efforts to address gender inequality have been criticised in light of figures showing that just one in 10 professors is a woman at some institutions.

Overall, around one in five professors in the UK is female, but statistics obtained by Times Higher Education show that several universities are falling well short of that low benchmark.

There were just six women among 77 full-time equivalent professors at Aberystwyth University (7.9 per cent) in 2011-12, according to data provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

At Bournemouth University the figure was just three out of 30 professors (8.7 per cent), while at the University of Bath it was 18 out of 163 (10.8 per cent), the Hesa figures show.

At Imperial College London the proportion was 14.1 per cent in 2011-12, at the University of Liverpool it was 14.7 per cent and at the University of Cambridge it was 15.6 per cent.

Despite the prevalence of men in the professoriate, many universities have managed to achieve near gender parity in other academic grades, with women making up 45.1 per cent of non-professorial academics.

But it is women’s lack of progression through the academic ranks that must be addressed, said Louise Morley, director of the Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research at the University of Sussex.

“Universities need to be held to account for their low numbers of senior women,” said Professor Morley, who suggested that universities should be barred from research funding unless they can prove they are supporting female academics’ careers.

“Some type of leverage is required as it does not appear that universities will initiate [change] themselves,” she said.

Professor Morley also suggested that it should be mandatory for institutions to sign up to the UK Athena SWAN project, which promotes women in science, so that “gender [is] factored into all strategic planning and processes”.

Publishing comparative data (the THE’s table is the first breakdown by institution of such information) could also force universities to address the professorial gender gap, she added.

“These statistics need to be in the public domain,” she said.

Fewer women: the bottom 10

Source: Hesa

Specialist equality

Research-intensive universities tend to have lower numbers of female professors, our data suggest.

Only six of the 24 Russell Group universities have higher than average female representation among the professoriate.

Meanwhile, universities specialising in arts and humanities subjects tend to perform better.

The University of the Arts London, the Courtauld Institute of Art, the University of Roehampton and the Institute of Education, University of London are the only institutions out of 129 surveyed where female professors form the majority.

Nicola Woodroofe, professor of neuroimmunology at Sheffield Hallam University, who runs a mentoring programme for female academics, said that the lack of female professors was particularly apparent in science-based subjects.

However, women in all subjects needed more support when applying for promotion, Professor Woodroofe said. They should also be more confident in applying for professorial posts – a trait that partly explained the low number of female professors, she suggested.

“Men often feel that if they tick a few of the boxes they will take a chance and apply, but women want to be certain they will be successful,” she said.

“It means they don’t always apply when they could and miss out on valuable feedback that could help future applications.”

Commenting on the data, Aberystwyth, whose vice-chancellor April McMahon was one of the six female professors recorded by the data, said that the figure this year is 12 per cent, with half of its eight-strong executive team being women.

The number of female professors at Bournemouth has also increased to nine since the data were collected, the university said, taking it close to the sector average. It is a member of Athena SWAN and has established a Women’s Academic Network, it added.

Bath said that half of its staff are women, including 50 per cent of its senior management team, including its vice-chancellor, Dame Glynis Breakwell.

The university added that it was working to increase the proportion of professors who are female.

For example, if a professorial shortlist does not contain a female candidate, the chair of the selection panel must be satisfied that steps have been taken to encourage female candidates to apply, Bath said.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Oh yes, and if you apply for promotion, the male colleagues start hissing, glaring and cutting you until you have been turned down. Then they love you again because their need for dominance has been satisfied. Suppose that this varies between places, some have just more amiable men around.

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  • Why are there are so many articles complaining there are fewer females working in certain jobs? I have not seen any reports regarding the discrimination against males.

    When I was a university academic (1985-95) I was denied promotion because I did not have a PhD, but many females were being promoted without a PhD, and with fewer publications than I had.

    Putting certain people into position just to fill up the numbers is akin to passing a high percentage of students to improve the rankings, despite these students' performance being below the expected standard, which then causes problems with their future employer, and tarnishes the university's reputation in future years.

    Surely we must select the most appropriate candidate for the position, and not exclude males just to give a female the job to "make the numbers look better". This is the same as discriminating on a race basis.

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  • Surprised by comment from Christiane Lange-Kuettner. Where I work, members of staff in the same department (male or female) would not know if someone had applied for promotion and aside from the Head of Department who writes a letter of support, no one locally has any input into the process. On interview committees, I can honestly say that if anything, I have seen only positive discrimination in favour or female applicants, largely because of pressure to increase numbers. There are doubtless issues of confidence as mentioned above. However, at the risk of upsetting those who like a good conspiracy, there are some completely mundane reasons behind the relative lack of female professors. First, I have found that fewer female academics aspire to "Grade 10", possibly because of the extra commitment or time and responsibility that inevitably comes with it: Once promoted, increased responsibility and time commitments are inevitable. In addition, in my experience, a fewer proportion of females fulfil the criteria. That said, I do not believe that female academics are optimally supported when they have children, or that the inevitable impact this has on publication record or grant income is always accounted for much later on. In the end, promotion criteria tend to be hurdle-based. I have always wondered, why don't more women (and men) in academia campaign for something that might make a difference... good on campus crèche facilities? What we actually need is more women that fulfil the criteria for promotion and of those, more that want to undertake the role... just saying "we need more" is too simplistic.

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