Real force needed to smash ceiling

August 2, 1996

The extent of discrimination against women that still exists in higher education in the UK is underlined by the accounts of two new women professors' fight for recognition (THES, July 26). As you report, while the numbers of women and men on degree courses are roughly equal, only 7.3 per cent of professors are women.

It is as difficult for women managers as for women academics to achieve recognition, and this is a particular concern of Through the Glass Ceiling, a network of senior women in higher education management. We deplore the fact that the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which has replaced the Universities Statistical Record (USR), has decided not to collect data on academic related staff so that it is no longer possible to obtain accurate statistical information on these staff. While we are delighted that some of our members have now broken through the glass ceiling to become vice chancellors, and the number of women vice chancellors trebled in 1994/95, there are still only six - a tiny proportion. The latest available figures from USR show that in, 1993/94, 33 per cent of Grade A lecturers but only 5.5 per cent of professors in the old (pre-1992) universities were women. The corresponding figures (and the last that will be collected) for administrative, library and computer staff were no better, at just over 50 per cent and 10.2 per cent respectively.

For management staff there are no generally recognised performance indicators. Those judging their performance cannot look to peer review, publications and the like, but have to rely almost exclusively on subjective judgements. Good and efficient higher education is increasingly required to depend on good and efficient management. However, good management is by its nature invisible, and often it is only when something goes wrong that the management role is noticed, There is considerable evidence that women tend to be more modest about their skills and achievements than men and less likely to press their case. The members of Through the Glass Ceiling are well aware of the need to encourage women to be more assertive about their performance if they are to achieve the recognition they deserve. Women are among the best and most invisible of managers. This very quality lends to their being overlooked - to the loss of higher education as a whole.

ANGELA CRUM EWING Chair, Through the Glass Ceiling

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