Gaps between female share of professoriate and rest of workforce

Twenty-three UK universities have gaps larger than 20 percentage points between proportion of academics overall who are female and their share of professoriate

March 5, 2024
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Some of the UK’s largest and most prestigious universities have wide gaps between the proportion of their academics overall who are female and their share of the professoriate.

Across the country, the proportion of professors who are women increased to 31 per cent in 2022, compared with 30 per cent the year before, but a Times Higher Education analysis of data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveals significant differences in rates of promotion.

The findings might indicate universities that are failing to promote women – or institutions that have significantly increased female representation among their lower academic ranks, with potential to diversify the professoriate in coming years.

For the analysis, THE calculated the percentage of female academics below professorial rank and compared this with the percentage of female professors or other senior academics, such as heads of department.

Twenty-three universities have gaps larger than 20 percentage points, among them the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and the London School of Economics.

ProviderProportion of non-professorial academics that are female %Proportion of professors and other senior academics that are female %Gap between two figures

Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency. Hesa records the legal sex of staff members; some are counted as “other” if they are of a third sex that is legally recognised by another country. Data is a snapshot taken on 1 December 2022 and is rounded to the nearest five.

Of institutions with more than 1,000 academic staff, the University of Brighton has the largest gap, followed by Cardiff University, the universities of Plymouth and Salford, and Liverpool John Moores University.

At Brighton, 60 per cent of non-professorial academics are female (785 women versus 530 men), while just 35 per cent of professors and other senior academics are female (45 women versus 85 men).

Julie Canavan, a senior lecturer in Brighton’s School of Education, and equalities officer for the local University and College Union branch, claimed that promotions had been put on hold ahead of the introduction of a new framework.

“We’re going into our second year of no promotions, which is only going to make things worse for women,” she said, suggesting that ethnic minority women would be particularly affected.

A Brighton spokesperson said the new promotions process “has been designed to address some of the concerns over inequalities arising from the existing process” and was part of “our wider five-year action plan to tackle issues such as the gender pay gap and wider systemic barriers to the career progression of female colleagues”.

“We know that, like many in the sector, we have a disproportionate representation of women in lower graded roles and of men in some senior posts and particularly academic roles. We have been taking action to address this and are confident that this will lead to positive outcomes with regard to gender representation in senior academic roles,” the spokesperson said, adding: “Our professorial promotions process has not been impacted by these discussions and has remained in place throughout.”

Other universities reported very small gaps between the gender balance of their professoriate and wider faculty. It was as small as a single percentage point at the University of the Arts London, and 5 percentage points or smaller at the University of Hertfordshire and Oxford Brookes University.

Wendy Wills, Hertfordshire’s pro vice-chancellor for research and enterprise, said there was “still a lot of misogyny and bias in some universities”. At Hertfordshire, half of all professors are female.

“I’m generalising here, but I do think post-92 institutions are more innovative and listen, and are groundbreaking in the initiatives that they try [to combat inequality],” Professor Wills said.

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Reader's comments (4)

The post says “We know that, like many in the sector, we have a disproportionate representation of women in lower graded roles and of men in some senior posts and particularly academic roles. We have been taking action to address this and are confident that this will lead to positive outcomes with regard to gender representation in senior academic roles,” So in the interests of equality what are you doing for the men in these lower graded roles, as believe it or not people want to progress at all levels not just in senior positions - is there not an equivalent bias in recruitment or progession there ? Why is this disproprtionate representation of women at lower grades acceptable and this equivalent inequality not worthy of a study or corrective action ?
There are more women in lower grades because women are not being promoted to higher grades. I work in a Russell Group University. In the last 20 years, in the subject area in which I work, over 15 men have been promoted to professorships and 0 women despite 20-40% of staff being women over this period. If there was a will to close the gender gap it could be done overnight by promoting the many well-qualified women currently bashing their heads against the glass ceiling, but the rigid adherence of senior leaders to equality over equity is maintaining this unfair and deeply frustrating system.
But you are talking about promotion to Professorships not lower grade positions. I too work in a Russell Group institution and was analysing data for an Athena Swan board. It isn't fair to use the same metric to highlight the inequality of woman at senior levels and then dismiss it because it potentially highlights the same issue for men at lower levels. I was shocked because the concern of my group was only for senior academic women and not for equality in general and certainly had no interest in making things better of the women who worked in residences and catering at the lowest end of the spectrum.
Men in our university fought back when they were denied promotions at all levels. Some walked away, others joined the union and made noise, yet others pointed out the flaws and importantly identified the individuals who were denying men promotions. Now we have to do regular checks to ensure that no one falls through the cracks (sadly it remains women of colour in both professional and academic services).