Radical gender equality plan for Irish university

National University of Ireland, Galway will introduce a raft of policies to tackle its deficit of women in leadership positions

June 22, 2016
National University of Ireland, Galway, Aula Maxima, Quadrangle
Source: Alamy
Changing attitudes: National University of Ireland, Galway

An Irish university hit by sexual discrimination claims is to adopt a radical action plan to improve the promotion chances of female staff.

The National University of Ireland, Galway has agreed to accept a report by a task force on gender equality that contains 24 recommendations on how the institution can tackle the under-representation of women in senior academic and leadership positions.

The task force was set up after a landmark award in November 2014 by an equality tribunal to Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington, which found that she had been discriminated against on grounds of gender when she was passed over for promotion in 2009 – a year in which just one out of 15 women applying for elevation to senior lecturer was successful.

Only 14 per cent of professors at NUI Galway are women, the joint lowest of any Irish university alongside Trinity College Dublin, even though women constitute 70 per cent of lecturers, according to the task force report, which was published earlier this month.

The success rate for women applying for a senior lecturer post stood at just 27 per cent between 2001 and 2014, compared with 46 per cent for men, the report added.

The university has already adopted four preliminary recommendations made in June 2015, such as ensuring that women make up at least 40 per cent of all committees, but a wider range of policies to promote gender equality will now be introduced.

More radical measures set to take effect include “mandatory gender quotas for all academic promotion assessments and competitions” and training managers to recognise unconscious bias.

Others measures are set to include the creation of a fund to support women returning from maternity leave, which would allow their departments to “buy out” staff from teaching and free them to concentrate on re-establishing their research.

NUI Galway is also set to review its cover for staff on maternity leave and to introduce a “core hours policy” in which committee meetings are held only between 10am and 4pm.

The university should lift its promotion freeze for various academic posts because such “severe restrictions” are “especially” impeding women’s promotion chances, the report adds.

The report comes ahead of the publication of a state review of gender in Irish higher education later this month, which may put forward similar suggestions for gender quotas already in place in national politics.

The fact that no university in the Republic of Ireland has ever had a female president “tells its own story”, said task force chair Jane Grimson, a former vice-provost at Trinity College.

“I’ve heard a lot in Galway and elsewhere that ‘we always choose the best person’ regardless of gender, but appointing more women to senior roles is not about lowering standards,” Professor Grimson said.

University boards and promotion panels might consider a “different definition of what excellence means”, including recognising the valuable roles typically undertaken by female academics, she added.

“These recommendations with financial implications will be quite challenging to implement, but we are not talking about massive amounts,” Professor Grimson said. “This plan must be properly resourced so it does not become another strategy that simply sits on a shelf.”


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