New statistics from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) released this month show that women are under-represented at the highest level of academia. National statistics for 2014 show that less than a third of senior academics are females.

The statistics show that there are equal numbers of males and females entering academia. Half of lecturers, the lowest grade of university teaching, are now female. More senior positions remain overwhelmingly male. At the higher grade levels 35 per cent of senior lecturers and 26 per cent of assistant professors are female. Just 19 per cent of professors, the highest level of academia, are women.

These new statistics have prompted a call to action from the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT). Joan Donegan, Deputy General Secretary of IFUT, said comparing the number of women entering academia to those in senior positions suggests that women are simply being denied promotion.

NUI Galway has been under particular scrutiny since a landmark discrimination case last year. The Equality Tribunal found that Dr. Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington had been passed up for promotion due to her gender and awarded her €70,000 dispensation.

The new figures show that NUIG again had the lowest number of senior female academics in all three higher grades of academia. Overall, only 18 per cent of its senior academics are female. However, statistics from the end of 2013 show that there is a similar gender imbalance in UCD. While 52 per cent of lecturers are female, women make up only 29 per cent of senior academic staff. At the top of the academic pyramid, 80 per cent of professors are male.

Other universities have launched gender equality initiatives, such as The Integer Project at Trinity College or the Festa Project at the University of Limerick. TCD and UL were recently awarded a gender equality accreditation by the HEA. There was no similar initiative at UCD but the university does have an Equality and Diversity Unit which is “committed to equality of opportunity for all staff and students.”

These figures come as gender equality in higher education is being critically examined by the HEA. They launched the National Review of Gender Equality in 2014, headed by former European commissioner and Minister Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

“A report by this independent and expert group will be completed in June 2016 and will address gender equality and the reasons for continuing gender inequality across all grades of staff, including administrative staff,” said Joan Donegan. Donegan said that universities now understand that equality is an institutional problem rather than solely a women’s issue and are taking steps to correct this. She warned however that launching initiatives would not be sufficient to solve the “huge and complex problem” of gender inequality.