Gender in university leadership and governance

As is well known, in many university courses women now make up the majority of the student body. But when you get to academic lecturing staff, in the UK only 39 per cent are women. The proportion of senior academic posts filled by women is smaller still. There is still clearly a job to be done in higher education to ensure that there are no barriers that keep women from pursuing successful careers to the highest level in universities.

In this particular debate, one other part of the system is now coming under increasing scrutiny: university governance. There was some evidence that until recently university governing bodies were finding it difficult to achieve any kind of gender balance.  When the panel that I chaired reviewed higher education governance in Scotland in 2012, we recommended that 40 per cent of all members of governing bodies should be women, and that institutions should work towards that aim.

The Herald newspaper has now looked more closely at gender distribution on university governing bodies, and found that there has been some improvement in Scotland, at least to the extent that a number of higher education institutions now have female chairs.

More generally, it is true to say that gender imbalance is not as severe as it used to be; but it is still far from perfect. Universities need to continue to address this issue, not least so as to ensure that women (and indeed men) do not end up in single-sex ghettoes in the labour market. A significant part of getting this right is to ensure that there are role models for both sexes: male teachers, female engineers, male therapists, female computer programmers. And of course, women as university heads and chairs.

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4 Comments on “Gender in university leadership and governance”

  1. V.H Says:

    Do you not think that that’s just optics. Isn’t the real problem that the social model underpinning the academy is one that presumes that both sexes don’t form a family until into their 40s. When presumably they’ve got stability with tenure. Auxiliaries in Rome didn’t get citizenship until they had served 25 years and what the academy is doing de facto isn’t much different.
    From what I can see the academy has a working model that has the very worst aspects of self employment and institutional/factory employment and very very few of the benefits. The picture the academy in English speaking regions is trying to prolong is that of a medical consultant which isn’t all that friendly for families either.
    Of course I imagine eventually you’ll have gender evenness at the top of most organisations. But what the devil is the point in having a bunch of abbesses promulgating the notion that everything is grand now when what’s needed is an awareness that both sexes should be involved with kids. Men like kids too you know. And lets face it, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of point preserving and extending knowledge if you are sterilizing yourself in the process.

    • saschated Says:

      I’m having difficulty understanding your argument here. For me, life in ‘the academy’ is perfect for raising a family. The built-in flexibility and shadowing of typical holiday times is ideal. People do mention the stress, but to be honest, the stress points are seldom and come at the same time every year (meaning you can plan for them).

      I would recommend to anyone with a young family that academia offers a flexibility you simply are not afforded in other industries. In direct contrast to what you say, for me, academia provides the best of self-employment and the best of ‘institutional’ employment. It’s a glass half full kind if thing.

      • V.H Says:

        It’s really quite simple. You have no measurable income until the age of 35. So if you form a family before that age with all the accouterments of house, car, kids, schools, holidays in Agen for a month pestering swans on the canal du medi. Certain thing have to be in place. Either you have private income, as in your family haven’t bought furniture since Hepplewhite was around. Or one of the couple is supporting the other working in the academy. Basically subsidizing the running of the place.
        This is the THE page showing the income for Prof’s and vice-chancellors. Draw what you will from it. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.aspx?storyCode=2012381

  2. Laura Muir Says:

    It’s not all bad news! I am pleased to say that RGU is supporting my participation in the Aurora Leadership Programme for women in Higher Education this academic year. Aurora aims to encourage a wide range of women in academic and professional roles to think of themselves as leaders, to develop leadership skills, and to help institutions maximise the potential of these women. The scheme is for women up to senior lecturer level or professional services equivalent and it combines education, mentoring and on-line resources to provide learning with an enduring impact. (http://www.lfhe.ac.uk/en/programmes-events/you/aurora/index.cfm) I am looking forward to getting started and I am anticipating great things to come out of it🙂


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