Liverpool v-c calls for funding link to improve gender balance

Janet Beer says radical action is needed to increase the number of women working at higher levels in universities

April 23, 2016
Janet Beer, University of Liverpool
Source: Rex

A Russell Group vice-chancellor has rekindled calls for research councils to consider tying funding to diversity accreditation schemes such as Athena SWAN.

Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, called on senior figures within the research community to emulate the “incredible sector-changing leadership” shown by Dame Sally Davies, who, as chief medical officer for England in 2011, said that medical schools without an Athena SWAN silver award would not be eligible for Department of Health research funding .

“We need them to show that same leadership and maybe research councils could consider doing something equivalent,” said Professor Beer, who was speaking at a seminar on diversity in higher education held by the 30% Club, a not-for-profit group set up to achieve gender balance on FTSE 100 boards, in London’s Canary Wharf on 21 April.

“Maybe professional accreditation bodies could spur that culture [of change] as when you do it improves life for everyone,” she added.

Commenting on the current gender balance at the top of universities, in which 22 per cent of universities are led by women, Professor Beer said that the situation was improving but only at “glacial” pace.

Women are still less likely to apply for promotion than men unless they “ticked every box” on the desired criteria list, meaning fewer women were reaching professorial level, Professor Beer added.

“There is a moment that leadership is formed and it is a moment that women are not seizing,” she said.

Patrick Johnston, vice-chancellor of Queen's University Belfast, said that his institution was focused on ensuring more women apply to become professor and, when appointed, to higher professorial grades.

“When they apply they probably do better in getting it, but we do not have enough women getting into these higher professorial grades,” said Professor Johnston.

Jim Smith, director of research at the Francis Crick Institute and deputy chief executive officer of the Medical Research Council, also raised concerns about the promotion and attrition rate of female scientists.

For instance, 55 per cent of MRC PhD students were women but just 31 per cent of those applying for MRC research grants were female, Dr Smith said.

“We are losing some of our best scientists along the career path simply because they are women,” he said.

“Science is a career which will last from your early 20s to your early 70s – there is something wrong with a 50-year career if you cannot take three or four years’ of part-time or flexible working to do what you need to do,” he added.

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