Despite the fact that more women complete undergraduate and postgraduate degrees than men, and 51% of lecturers in higher education are women, the gender imbalance in higher education leadership is particularly prevalent. According to reports by the Higher Education Authority, women are grossly underrepresented in senior academic positions at third level institutions.
Teaching is a female-dominated profession at primary, secondary and third level, yet men are significantly more likely to advance and be promoted in their teaching careers. Currently, only 30% of UCD Heads of School are women and only 24% of UCD full professors are women. Not once in UCD’s history has there been a female president of the university.
“The Equality Tribunal found that Dr Sheehy Skeffington was discriminated against in a round that saw the promotion of sixteen men and only one woman.”
The issue of gender equality at universities was brought to the fore in recent years after a High Court action by four women lecturers at NUIG alleged gender discrimination when they applied for a promotion. The Equality Tribunal found that Dr Sheehy Skeffington was discriminated against in a round that saw the promotion of sixteen men and only one woman. The court ordered the college to pay Dr Sheehy Skeffington €70,000, to promote her and to review their promotion appointment system.
“We have a norm in the university that we should be at a minimum of 40% in respect of gender. We don’t think that 30% is good enough.”
Professor Colin Scott, who is Vice President for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at UCD has said “we have a norm in the University that we should be at a minimum of 40% in respect of gender. We don’t think that 30% is good enough.” The lack of gender diversity and under-representation of women across several faculties no doubt fails to represent the diverse student body at UCD and further entrenches ideas of gender roles into students’ minds.
However, Professor Scott says that the University has adopted a gender equality action plan in the last year. “Our gender equality action plan has a very wide range of measures. We received a bronze recognition from the Athena Swan Scheme for that plan,” he said. “We’ve got a good understanding of where our challenges are and we’ve got a credible plan to address them.”
The Athena Swan Charter was launched in 2015 to identify barriers to equality in universities. The aims of the initiative include increasing the proportion of women employed in higher education institutions, improving representation of women on committees, and enhancing the transition from postdoctoral researcher to first academic post. Securing the Athena Swan bronze award entitles UCD to apply for research funding from Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council and the Health Research Board.
“The programme is aimed at women in academic and professional roles to encourage them to think of themselves as leaders, to develop their potential as leaders and also includes workshops such as ‘Identity, Impact and Voice’ and ‘Power and Politics'”
Among the actions UCD plans to undertake to further gender diversity includes encouraging women to take part in a training programme called the Aurora Leadership Development Programme. The programme is aimed at women in academic and professional roles to encourage them to think of themselves as leaders, to develop their potential as leaders and also includes workshops such as “Identity, Impact and Voice” and “Power and Politics”.
According to Professor Scott, there have been good levels of participation in the programme to date and all current Heads of School have taken part. The programme also runs year-round on campus for pupils to participate in, and has been taken by over 600 students so far. “We’ve set a target that by next year, 40% of all new head of school appointments will be female. We’re also encouraging schools to seek a school level of Athena Swan recognition,” he explained. So far, no individual faculties have earned an Athena Swan recognition.
Mr. Tristan Aitken, Director of Human Resources at UCD said that several Heads of School are due to complete their term in the next twelve months and added that “proactive discussions will take place with college principals in relation to the pipeline of potential female faculty that could fill these positions.” Aitken said the University has plans to discuss with current Heads of School any barriers they experienced in applying for or obtaining the role and how they can support female faculty to be able to achieve the position in the future. “Targeted discussions will take place with female faculty to identify the barriers they face to obtaining Head of School roles and leadership roles more generally.”
Aitken says that a further 21 participants are expected on the 2018/19 Aurora Leadership Development Programme. He also acknowledged that female representation is particularly low in STEM disciplines. Currently, there are no female Heads of School in UCD STEM subjects, whereas in subjects such as Social Sciences and Law, almost half of the Heads of School are women.
A UCD Women in STEM group was formed that aims to “recognise the achievements of women in STEM and to empower female scientists to engage equally in all aspects of scientific and academic life.” A new promotion system was introduced to UCD in 2016. “The idea is to accelerate the rate of promotion and we hit our target in the first year of the Cascade model,” Professor Scott said. Under this promotion system, the University moved from 19% to 24% women as full professors in UCD in its first year. The figures for 2017/18 have not yet been released.
The Higher Education Authority is “actively seeking to foster gender equality among staff in Irish higher education” year-round, and a government task force was formed to work on gender equality in third level institutions. The task force has recently completed a report on their findings, sponsored by the Minister for Education, which is expected to be published by the end of the year.