Female academics ‘discriminated against’ by universities, research claims

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Female academics at top universities do not progress as quickly, or to the same levels, as men with the same qualifications and experience, research has suggested.

The Cardiff University-led study found that women are under-represented in senior academic grades, and if the current trend continues it will be “decades” before this gap is closed.

This is the case even after parenthood is accounted for, but researchers said female academics were still effectively being forced to choose between their career aspirations and having children.

Women were less likely to progress into senior roles than men even after age, academic degrees, number of publications and main area of research were accounted for, among other factors.

The researchers indicated that one explanation for this may be “discrimination against women”.

“We call this the gender effect. Put simply, two people who have similar, or even identical credentials and personal circumstances except for one being a man and the other being a woman, are likely to have different academic ranks, with the man having a higher rank than the woman,” the Gender and Academic Rank in the UK research concludes.

The analysis of data gathered from 2,270 academics at 24 Russell Group universities also found that women were given more teaching responsibilities than men, which also had an impact on career progression because many institutions held roles that are primarily research-based in higher esteem. There was also a correlation between the amount of teaching responsibilities and lower salary.

The researchers recommended that universities ensure that promotions are given on the basis of a clear and transparent criteria, and that workload models are in place to allow fair and equitable distribution of teaching and administrative responsibilities.

“The decisive factor for promotion is research, i.e., if a candidate’s research is deemed inadequate, no amount of teaching or administration will compensate for this. If this is the path that the Russell Group Universities want to stick to then this should be made crystal clear and no claims of the possibility of promotion on the basis of teaching (or administration) excellence should be made,” the research paper, published in the Journal of Sustainability, says.

Jess Cole, director of policy at the Russell Group, said: “This important work from Cardiff University reminds us that academia continues to suffer the gender gap we see in many professions and organisations.

“Russell Group universities take this issue very seriously and the researchers point to the policies that are in place to help staff balance work and home, such as flexible working and subsidised childcare, which run alongside initiatives to support women’s career progression, including mentoring and leadership schemes. Our members continue to develop these practices and programmes around the needs of their staff.”

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