Near the bottom

July 3, 1998

8.1% of professors are women

Cardiff, 'The Boys' Club'

Carol Featherston, 31, has been a lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Wales, Cardiff, her first academic post, for two months. She already knows from her university induction course what she will need to do to get promoted: "Personnel went through what was expected - how many papers you should have written to be applying, and the teaching profile you should have."

That explicit guidance has contributed to her impression that despite her subject, she is not part of a beleaguered minority: "There are a number of women in this department, including one who has been promoted. It's very early to tell, but my impression so far is that it's a very open and friendly environment.'' Her optimism is unexpected, given Cardiff's record in employing women academics. Its women professors and senior lecturers are outnumbered by 20 to one; it is 15 from the bottom of the table for the former, and second from bottom for the latter.

But if things at Cardiff are bad now they used to be worse, says director of personnel Alastair McDougall. Of the university's 11 women professors, ten have been appointed in the last five years. At the bottom end of the academic scale, the proportion of women lecturers has risen from 20 to per cent. That last figure gives Mr McDougall grounds for optimism. Cardiff's strategy is to try to keep more of the 53 per cent of Cardiff's undergraduates who are female through to post-graduate level and beyond. Of women who apply to Cardiff, he argues, a higher proportion succeed in gaining posts than do men. The question that begs is: why do so few women apply?

Some women in other universities refer to Cardiff as "The Boys Club'', pointing to the tiny groups of women in some departments. They tell stories of informal appointments over and above the number of advertised posts, and of meetings in the pub. As part of a drive to improve research ratings, Cardiff has tried to headhunt prominent women.

Women working at Cardiff are reluctant to comment on these stories. They say the situation in some parts of the university is difficult. But in others there is real progress. Sara Delamont, reader in social and administrative studies, has seen results from a mentor scheme coaching women seeking promotion - as she herself was coached by South Bank vice-chancellor Gerry Bernbaum over 20 years ago.

For Helen Thanopoulou, a lecturer in the male-dominated field of maritime economics for three years, pressure from male colleagues has propelled her to be the first ever female chair of Cardiff's academic assembly next year. She said: "Of course you have to be assertive, of course it is a male-dominated environment. But there are intelligent and confident women here too." ACADEMIC STAFF AT CARDIFF, JULY 1997

% Female % Male

Lecturer 13.6 36.1 LESS THAN Senior/principal lecturer 1.9 21.7

Professor 1.5 25.2

Total 17.0 83.0

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