At the top

July 3, 1998

8.1% of professors are women

South Bank

South Bank's reputation as the best place for a woman to aim for a professorship is somewhat surprising, given that only a few years ago it was generally seen as one of the grimier heavy engineering polytechnics. Yet for the third year running it is in pole position for women professors, with 28.8 per cent of its chairs held by women. Behind the headline figures however is a more complex story. A large proportion of the women professors have been appointed from outside South Bank. In its pursuit of improved research rankings, the university has headhunted able researchers such as Julie Dockrill, 42, newly appointed professor of psychology, who had been working as a senior lecturer at the Institute of Education. South Bank offered her research funds and new staff to create a new department with research credibility.

Yet her success contrasts sharply with the position of women who have worked in South Bank for some years who see their own hopes of promotion not improved by the influx of new women. South Bank does not rank so highly in its proportion of women senior lecturers and researchers: at 23.9 per cent they are more outnumbered by men than the professors. There is some resentment of these high-flying outsiders, says Dockrill: "Traditionally South Bank was not a research institution and people have had very heavy teaching loads, and still do in some cases. That makes it harder for people to find the time for research."

South Bank women have benefited from strong role models: former vice-chancellor Baroness Perry, now president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge; senior women managers as heads of finance and human resources. Selection and promotion panels are always mixed, and the reputation of successful women undoubtedly attracts like to like. But, as nationally, the picture is skewed by subjects. In moving away from its traditional base and boosting humanities, social science and nursing, South Bank has pulled in women to traditional areas. The school of health and social care, for example, headed by Wendy Couchman, has gone from 40 to 120 staff, the vast majority of them women, in the last four years.

Over in the school of the built environment, by contrast, barely a handful of women work in construction and civil engineering, according to reader Jill Wells. She too was brought into the university to develop its research - she had been working for international charities on construction in developing countries. But her experience is rather different: "I think it all depends on the discipline you are in. Here, there is a very male culture, very few women, lots of swearing and thuggishness. Whereas the other side of the university is very much a women's world."


% Female % Male

Lecturer 3.6 4.4

Senior/principal lecturer 33.4 52.4

Professor 2.0 4.2

Total 39.0 61.0

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