Female professors earn less on average than their male counterparts because they focus on underappreciated “academic citizen” roles that do not lead to promotion or pay rises, a new study suggests.
Male professors devote less time to mentoring duties, serving on university committees and other “academic citizen” roles, and instead concentrate on their own research – an activity more likely to win them external recognition and a pay rise, according to a paper by Bruce Macfarlane, professor of higher education at University of Southampton, and Damon Burg, a research fellow at Southampton Education School.
Based on interviews with 25 female and five male professors at nine UK universities, the two researchers found that female professors tended to talk about the broader demands of their departmental chair, whereas male interviewees focused far more on the need to win research grants.
“Women professors were much more likely to identify academic citizenship as a key part of being a professor,” explained Professor Macfarlane, who presented his results at the Society for Research into Higher Education’s annual research conference, which took place in Newport, Wales, from 9 to 11 December.
Mentoring PhD students and junior staff, serving on committees and undertaking commitments outside the university were also mentioned as important professorial tasks, he explained.
“It meant they were doing things that will not result in a publication or lead to a research grant,” he added.
While previous research has shown that early and mid-career female academics take on more administration and “caring, supportive and collegiate” roles than men, acting as a brake on their promotion chances, the latest interviews show this trend continues when women reach more senior positions, said Professor Macfarlane.
“Women academics of all ranks tend to do a disproportionate amount of service that will not lead to promotion,” he said.
“Even at professorial level [they] tend to be making up more of these service roles,” he added.
That may partially explain why female academics earn less than male peers, he said. According to the 2016 Times Higher Education Pay Survey, the pay of female professors at UK universities was £4,570 (5.7 per cent) less on average in 2014-15 than the £79,252 earned by male professors.
“Given that reward is based on publications and grant success, this may have some impact on professorial pay levels,” said Professor Macfarlane.
“For instance, a professor may start on £60,000 a year, but you can get up to £120,000 as a professor at my university, so we need to find ways to get women up the professorial pay scales,” he added.
Promotion and reward panels should take a more holistic view of the contribution made by professors, rather than simply looking at how much research funding they have gained, Professor Macfarlane suggested.
“It could be that women are being penalised because they have a broader view of what it means to be a professor,” he said.
“Universities should not only recognise the impact of academic citizenship, but build it into their reward and recognition structures,” he added.