Climb high to lift pay, women told

October 8, 1999

Better pay for British female academics and more support for them to climb the management ladder are issues that must be tackled side by side, one of America's leading campaigners for equal opportunities in higher education said this week.

Judith Sturnick, director of the Office of Women in Higher Education for the American Council on Education, said the low proportion of women holding senior positions in universities and colleges and the lower rates of pay female academics receive compared with their male peers are directly related. Efforts to improve one should have a positive impact on the other, she said.

Dr Sturnick, who will speak today at a seminar organised by the Commission on University Career Opportunity, said she applauded the commitment from British higher education union leaders and employers to take on the "profound" question of pay.

But she suggested that more effort should also be made to provide female academics with the encouragement and backing needed to give them a fair chance to gain management jobs.

In an interview with The THES, she pointed to the activities of her own organisation as an example of what can be done.

Her office has set up regular meetings and networking events at national and grass-roots levels to provide information, advice, support and contacts for women looking for promotion in academic circles.

In the US, women have volunteered to train as coordinators of conferences and seminars held in every state. Some of the annual events act as "showcases" for women with leadership potential and are attended by academic headhunters.

Dr Sturnick said: "I realise that every national culture is different, but there are enough similarities between the United Kingdom and the United States for these kinds of approaches also to work over here."

On this week's talks on equal pay opportunities, she added: "What is important is that you have the issue up on the table - that in itself is a powerful commitment. I commend that, and hope I can provide advice on any additional strategies you might be able to use."

Professional women continue to face career barriers because of the lack of family-friendly practice

at work, according to a major study led by Gerda Siann, Dundee University's professor of gender relations.

The research team from Dundee and St Andrews universities found that although overt sexism is rarely a problem nowadays, women are still disadvantaged by the "long hours" culture of business and by attitudes towards part-timers and career breaks.

The two-year study, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, explored the experiences and views of 1,000 professional men and women.

The majority of women believed that men were favoured when it came to promotion, a view shared by 35 per cent of men.

Professor Siann said: "Barriers are far more likely to be experienced by mothers and women of child-bearing age. It is important to acknowledge that a woman's progression can be as much affected by her potential to have children as it is by her being a mother."

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