Figures showing that 76 per cent of UK professors are white men should prompt the sector to address its "inequalities", according to the head of higher education's equality body.
This year's Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2011, from the Equality Challenge Unit, was the first to look at professors in terms of the "interplay of multiple identities", including both race and gender.
The report finds that in 2009-10, only 0.9 per cent of UK staff in professorial roles were black or minority ethnic (BME) women. But 3.4 per cent of staff in non-professorial roles were BME women. And 76.1 per cent of UK national staff in professorial roles were white males. The ECU said it did not have figures on the proportion of white males among all higher education staff.
The mean average salary of female staff was £31,116 compared with £39,021 for male staff, an overall pay gap of 20.3 per cent, the report notes.
David Ruebain, chief executive of the ECU, said: "The statistics do highlight a stark gap in representation at professorial level. We hope they will alert the sector to the need to act to address these inequalities."
He added that the "success of the Athena Swan programme", which aims to improve the careers of women working in science, engineering and technology departments, "has shown that change is needed at the systemic level to tackle these imbalances".
The ECU is currently running pilot programmes on race and gender with a number of universities, seeking to address cultural problems "such as barriers to professorial status and management positions", Mr Ruebain said.
Overall, 53.8 per cent of higher education staff were women. Yet at professorial level, just 19.1 per cent of staff were women.
An ECU spokeswoman explained that a provision in the Equality Act requiring employers to publish figures on their pay gaps has not been enacted by the government and noted that it "wouldn't apply" to institutions of higher education even if it were put in place. Proposals have been formed in Scotland.
The strongest equality duties are in Wales, the spokeswoman said, where universities must collect data on pay differences for all "protected characteristics" including race and gender and must "have due regard" to the need for equality objectives.
The ECU findings came as the National Union of Students published a separate report on disability hate incidents among higher and further education students across the UK. The report found that 8 per cent of disabled respondents "said that they had experienced at least one hate incident while studying at their current institution, which they believed was motivated by prejudice against their disability".
No Place for Hate recommends that universities "should consider setting a specific objective on tackling hate crime as part of their public sector equality duty"; "raise awareness of what constitutes a hate incident and the negative impact of this behaviour on the victim and others"; and establish strong support networks for disabled students.