'Strategic' networking is the key to women's advancement

July 4, 2003

Female academics must see beyond the "illusion" that individual talent will bring them career success, and start networking and supporting each other in the way that men do, an equal opportunities expert has urged.

Barbara Bagilhole, associate dean of Loughborough University's faculty of social sciences and humanities, is studying women's employment patterns in higher education. She says the low proportion of women in the sector is "scandalous" but believes they can use their capacity for cooperation to improve their position.

She told The THES that there was an illusion that an academic was a man who asked nothing of others and went around single-handedly solving problems.

But Dr Bagilhole said: "Success is not achieved by publishing more or even doing better research, but through personal contacts, friendship and cooperative work with key players in the field. Women like to work collaboratively and cooperatively, but we have to think about this strategically. Women need to promote each other and themselves."

She revealed her finding at the recent "Through the Glass Ceiling" conference at Napier University, Edinburgh, which aims to support senior female academics and encourage junior staff to seek promotion.

Dr Bagilhole said the latest figures showed that just over half of part-time staff, in "more vulnerable, lower status positions", were female, but only a third of full-time staff were women. Women make up a quarter of senior lecturers, 13 per cent of professors and 11 per cent of higher education heads.

Napier's Joan Stringer, Scotland's only female university principal, said there was a crucial responsibility for those who progressed to stand up for the fair and equal treatment of women.

She said: "It's very easy, as you go up the greasy pole and become preoccupied, to forget that others still struggle with structural barriers." She called on all institutions to run equal pay audits as a cornerstone of equal opportunities.


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