Chipping away at the glass ceiling

July 26, 1996

As a book and university league table today reveal the extent of discrimination against women academics, we focus on two new professors and their fight for recognition - Gillian Morriss-Kay (below left) and Carole Jordan (right).

Despite her high profile research showing that X-raying pregnant women caused childhood leukaemia, Alice Stewart never attained the rank of professor. Now 90 and still working as a senior research fellow at the University of Birmingham, she takes comfort from these lines in The Duchess of Malfi: "Glories, like glow-worms, afar off shine bright/ But looked to near, have neither heat nor light." "I laugh about it and say to myself, yes, those glow-worms, I don't really mind about them."

Alice is one of dozens of women intellectuals interviewed about her ideas and career in these pages over the past few years. Today a collection of 40 such interviews, expanded and amplified, is published as a book, Beyond the Glass Ceiling, with an opening essay by Helena Kennedy QC. It explores why only 7.3 per cent of professors in the UK are women when they occupy half the places on most university degree courses.

Of course there are glaring disparities between universities, which are highlighted by the league table opposite. The table, using data which has never been publicly released before, puts two "new" universities at the top. At the bottom perhaps it should not be a surprise to find a science and technology university. After all, if the percentage of women professors nationally is disappointingly low, it is disastrous in certain subjects - not even 1 per cent of the UK's 774 professors in engineering and technology are women.

All the more reason, then, why Carole Jordan, Britain's most senior woman astronomer and the first female president of the Royal Astronomical Society, should have been awarded a chair at Oxford. Although The THES interviewed her months ago, she was reluctant to permit publication for fear of damaging her career prospects. Now, with the news that Oxford has finally made her a professor, she has agreed.

Professor Jordan, like several of the women featured in Beyond the Glass Ceiling, has no children. Others, like Marilyn Strathern, professor of anthropology at Cambridge, have succeeded despite being single parents for a large part of their careers.

Perhaps my favourite quote from the book comes from Professor Uta Frith, a senior scientist in the MRC's Cognitive Development Unit, who employed nannies to help bring up her two sons. "When my younger son was at primary school they were asked to write stories about their mothers, and he wrote 'I love my mum because she fetches me from school every day and gives me tea and is there for me'. And every little bit of it was not true! But I did ask him recently if he wished I had always been there, and he said 'No'."

The fashion is to denigrate feminism and to argue that women have succeeded, not by merit, but from some misguided application of political correctness. Perhaps the best answer to such carpers comes from Condoleezza Rice, provost and professor of political science at Stanford University, who tells a story about a counsellor at her Denver high school who thought she was not college material because of her colour. "I can't tell you how many times I've been asked by people 'Do you think race and gender contributed to your success?' How the heck do I know? I can't repackage myself as a white male and see whether I would have got this far."

Sian Griffiths Sian Griffiths is editor of Beyond the Glass Ceiling, published by Manchester University Press and The Thes today at Pounds 9.99.

FEMALE PROFESSORS BY INSTITUTION

Institution, Female, % Female, Total (1) South Bank University 14, 32.6%, 43 (2) Oxford Brookes University 12, 26.1%, 46 (3) Kings College London 12, 17.1%., 70 (4) Royal Postgraduate Medical School 7, 14.9%, 47 (5) University of Stirling 8, 14.3%, 56 (6) Open University 10, 13.7%, 73 (7) City University 11, 12.9%, 85 (8) University of York 11, 12.8%, 86

(9) British Postgraduate Medical Federation 11, 12.5%, 88 (10) Napier University 5, 11.4%, 44 (11) University of Ulster 12, 10.7%, 112 (12) Loughborough University of Technology 11, 10.3%, 107 (=13) Queen Mary and Westfield College 9, 10.0%, 90 (=13) University of Surrey 8, 10.0%, 80 (15) University College London 28, 9.3%, 302 (=16) University of Essex 8, 9.2%, 87 (=16) University of Hull 8, 9.2%, 87

(18) De Montfort University 6, 9.1%, 66 (19) University of Sussex 9, 8.2%, 110 (20) London School of Economics and Political Science 6, 7.8%, 77 (=21) Brunel University 4, 7.7%, 52 (=21) University of Kent at Canterbury 7, 7.7%, 91 (=21) Royal Holloway and Bedford New College 4, 7.7%, 52 (24) University of Bristol 12, 7.5%, 159 (25) University of Glasgow 18, 7.4%, 242 (=26) United Medical and Dental Schools of St Guys and St Thomas's Hospitals 5, 7.2%, 69 (=26) Queen's University of Belfast 10, 7.2%, 139 (28) St George's Hospital Medical School 3, 7.0%, 43 (=29) Birkbeck College 3 6.8% 44 (=29) University of Warwick 9 6.8% 133 (31) University of Bradford 4 6.7% 60

(=32) University College of Swansea 6 6.6% 91 (=32) University of East Anglia 5 6.6% 76 (34) University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne 11 6.5% 169 (35) University of Manchester 16 6.0% 265 (=36) University of Edinburgh 13 5.9% 222 (=36) University of Liverpool 11 5.9% 188 (38) University of Oxford 12 5.7% 212 (=39) University of Lancaster 6 5.6% 107 (=39) University of Dundee 6 5.6% 108 (41) University of Cambridge 11 5.5% 199 (=42) University of Leicester 6 5.4% 111 (=42) University of Keele 3 5.4% 56

(44) University of Nottingham 9 5.1% 176 (=45) University College of Wales, Aberystwyth 3 4.5% 67 (=45) University of Leeds 9 4.5% 202 (47) University of Southampton 8 4.4% 182 (=48) University of Wales College of Cardiff 6 4.1% 145 (=48) Cranfield University 3 4.1% 73 (=48) Heriot-Watt University 3 4.1% 74 (=51) University of Bath 3 3.9% 77 (=51) University of Birmingham 8 3.9% 206 (53) University of Salford 2 3.8% 52 (54) Imperial College of Science, Technology & Medicine 6 3.4% 174 (=55) University of Sheffield 6 2.9% 204 (=55) University of St Andrews 2 2.9% 68 (57) University of Reading 4 2.8% 143

(=58) University of Durham 2 2.7% 73 (=58) University of Aberdeen 3 2.7% 111 (=58) University of Exeter 2 2.7% 75 (61) University of Wales College of Medicine 1 2.3% 44 (62) University of Strathclyde 3 1.9% 159 (63) University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology 0 0.0% 94

The above table looks only at institutions which have more than 40 professors. Even this threshold is seen to be very low in statistical terms (because one professorial appointment could represent a 2.5% shift in representation by gender)."The Higher Education Stastics Agency advises that information about professorial appointments based on data by grade within institution does not fully represent the position in the sector as a whole. In addition to the variations arising from subject mixes within institutions there are also structural difficulties which affect analysis. Several institutions are not represented because their staffing structures do not permit analysis by 'grade'. It should also be noted that the numbers are small and inferences cannot therefore be drawn from them".

Table compiled by HESA, statistics up to July 1995.

PROPORTION OF FEMALE PROFESSORS BY SUBJECT

Medicine and dentistry 5.9% Subjects allied to medicine 14.0% Biological sciences 7.7% Veterinary science 0.0% Agriculture and related subjects 0.0% Physical sciences 1.6% Mathematical sciences 4.9% Engineering and technology 0.9% Architecture, building and planning 5.4%

Social, economic & politicalstudies 11.9% Law 9.8% Business & administrative studies 5.9% Librarianship & informationstudies 29.4% Language studies 12.5% Humanities 8.7% Creative arts and design 13.8% Education 16.1%

* Only 7.3% of professors are women, though women make up 30% of academics

* New universities top the league

table for women professors n One university - UMIST - has no women professors

* In engineering and technology the proportion of women professors drops to under 1%

* None of the professors in either agriculture or veterinary science is a woman

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