Gender complaints: a third of women perceive unfair treatment

Almost one in three senior female academics feels their institution treats staff unfairly in relation to gender, a survey has found

September 12, 2013

At 29 per cent, the proportion of female research leaders who said they did not believe that their institution treated staff fairly in respect to gender was almost three times the level of men.

Research leaders of both sexes were most likely to see unfair treatment in relation to reward, career progression and promotion and participation in decision-making, according to the Principal Investigators and Research Leaders Survey 2013, published by Vitae, the careers organisation for researchers.

In these areas, close to a third of women perceived unfair treatment at their institution, rising to almost 35 per cent among women aged 41-55. This compared with between 14 and 18 per cent of male respondents across the three areas.

However, the vast majority of senior academics said they felt treatment was fair in relation to recruitment and selection, day-to-day treatment at work and access to training and development.

The survey, published at the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2013, on 4 and 5 September, compiled the views of 4,837 research leaders in 49 UK higher education institutions.

It also found that almost 20 per cent of female research leaders felt that they had personally experienced discrimination, compared with 6 per cent of men, figures lower than reported in the same survey in 2011.

Unfair treatment with respect to gender was also felt at more junior levels, according to the Careers in Research Online Survey 2013, also unveiled by Vitae at the conference. This found that 18 per cent of female and 8 per cent of male respondents said their institution did not treat staff fairly in relation to gender.

In both surveys the vast majority of respondents – close to 90 per cent – nonetheless believed that their institutions were committed to equality and diversity.

Overall, 80 per cent of research leaders reported good job satisfaction and most felt recognised for their research activity, said Robin Mellors-Bourne, director of research and intelligence at Vitae and the report’s co-author.

“Principal investigators and research leaders are very satisfied with their jobs in many ways and think they’re pretty well paid, but with women, and in particular mid-aged women, there is a suggestion that it is not a particularly fair world,” he said.

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