Non-academic posts dominated by female staff

July 29, 2005

Women make up almost two thirds of professional, administrative and support staff in English universities, according to the first snapshot of non-academic employees in the sector, writes Tom Wainwright.

The report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on staffing trends includes data on the army of managers, technicians, administrators and caterers who remained anonymous in previous staff surveys.

Naseem Zaman is one of the 153,401 people whose jobs have been illuminated by the report, which shows wide variation in the age and ethnicity of non-academic staff, and shows them to be overwhelmingly female.

"I've worked at the university for five years, and in many ways it's more satisfying than the private sector," the 34-year-old equal opportunities adviser at Bradford University said.

"There's no typical week. My role is quite cross-institutional. I deal with staff, students and external people. I'm involved in policy work and its implementation, regarding equality in terms of race, sexual orientation, religious diversity and disability," Ms Zaman added.

According to the Hefce figures, university non-academic staff are a good example of equal opportunities at work. Women made up 62 per cent of the non-academic workforce in 2003-04, while 8 per cent were from ethnic-minority backgrounds. The mean age was 42, but administrative jobs were taken mainly by people in their late twenties and thirties.

"Universities might be attractive places for women and ethnic minorities, but I think it depends more on the career than the institution itself," said Ms Zaman, who previously worked for a local training and enterprise council.

"There are certain career paths that women have traditionally been successful in. I think the key to improving equality is working with children at a younger age, breaking down stereotypes and providing good role models."

It is important for a university's staff to reflect the community, she said. Some 15 per cent of Bradford's staff have ethnic-minority backgrounds. The university is gradually working towards the local proportion of 22 per cent.

"Traditionally, universities weren't expected to develop action plans (for equality). But now they are monitored so much more closely, they need to come up with robust strategies," Ms Zaman said.

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