More women in senior university jobs, says report

The share of women in management or governor roles has steadily increased over the past two years, analysis shows

March 2, 2016
Gender symbols drawn on Post-it notes

Many more women are taking leadership positions in universities but still remain heavily outnumbered by men in higher education’s top jobs, a study shows.

One in three vice-chancellors hired over the past two years have been women, meaning that 22 per cent of universities are now led by women, up from 17 per cent in December 2013, according to the most detailed analysis of leadership roles in the sector to date.

More women are also now governors or chairing top committees at universities compared with two years ago, says the report, titled Women Count: Leaders in Higher Education 2016, published on 2 March, which was carried out by Women Count, a not-for-profit organisation that indexes gender representation in public, private and third-sector bodies.

Some 36 per cent of university governors are now women compared with 32 per cent in late 2013, while 19 per cent of governing bodies are chaired by women, up from 12 per cent, it says.

Women made up at least 40 per cent of governors at a third of the 166 higher education institutions surveyed by the report, up from a fifth in 2013, it adds.

At the highest level, some 15 of the 45 university leadership appointments between late 2013 and January 2016 had been women, the report also says.

However, several female vice-chancellors who retired over this period had been replaced by men, which led to an overall net gain of seven female vice-chancellors in the past two years, it adds.

“Having a third of all top appointments going to women could be better, but it is moving in the right direction,” said Norma Jarboe, director of Women Count, who wrote the report.

That compares with a previous report written in 2013 that showed the number of female governors and chairs of governors had actually fallen in the preceding few years, Ms Jarboe said.

Increased commitment to gender equality from sector umbrella bodies, funding bodies and individual universities in the form of support for the Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN scheme had encouraged institutions to seek more diverse shortlists when appointing vice-chancellors or chairs of governors, she believed.

“These diversity initiatives are now embedded at institutions, so governing bodies are challenging recruitment firms to produce more diverse longlists and shortlists,” she said, saying that many universities insisted that women should constitute at least 40 per cent of candidates.

“Research on the FTSE companies shows that if you get women applying, then their chances of getting the job tend to be pretty good,” she said.

Universities may also be seeking executive staff with a broader range of skills beyond mere research excellence, Ms Jarboe believed. “I wonder if the job specification has changed in recent years,” she said.

“Those women appointed recently have had some involvement in teaching or business, and with universities running things abroad, they may want a different skill set to what they demanded in the past,” she added.

The Women Count report also shows that more women are holding senior positions below vice-chancellor, making up 34 per cent of executive teams, while 31 per cent of academic schools or departments are led by female members of staff.

“The pipeline is looking quite healthy, but the real crunch is at professorial level, where only 23 per cent are women,” said Ms Jarboe.

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