Australian vice-chancellors are taking action to redress the severe gender imbalance among senior academics.
Women form the majority of tutors and junior lecturers but represent barely one in four of senior lecturers and only 14 per cent of professors. About one in six vice-chancellors is a woman.
The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee plans to raise the total number of women employed in universities to get balance.
AVCC president John Niland said the plan would also "get to grips" with the dynamics behind the employment of academic and general staff to see if different strategies were needed in both areas to get gender balance.
"Increasing the total number of women in university employment will take time and will depend on many factors outside the control of universities," he said.
"However, what we should be able to do more quickly is better utilise our existing pool of talent by giving women more opportunities in the higher levels of academics and university management."
Professor Niland said the plan was a joint project between the AVCC and the Colloquium of Senior Women in Australian Higher Education. It had three aims:
To exert the AVCC's leadership in promoting gender equity
To develop strategies based on research for overcoming barriers to gender equity
To refine the AVCC and university staff development services to target gender more effectively
Each university was to link its action plan to its overall priorities, he said, and the AVCC would monitor progress each year.
Under the plan, Australia's Affirmative Action Agency will be asked to assist and to provide analysis of the sector's position and examples of good practice. Similarly, all universities will be asked to establish equal employment opportunity targets for women staff and to monitor these through key performance indicators.
Professor Niland said research showed that cultural and structural barriers continued to limit the career paths of women. The next stage would be to examine the nature and dimensions of these barriers to identify and put in place mechanisms to counteract their impact.
The AVCC would devise training programmes for senior staff to help them provide more effective leadership in gender equity. The AVCC's staff development programmes would include gender equity issues.
Eleanor Ramsay, spokeswoman for the colloquium, said women would applaud the vice-chancellors' lead.
"The sector is facing a range of significant challenges nationally and internationally, and more than ever it needs the contribution, ideas and leadership available from the large pool of talented women working in our universities," Professor Ramsay said.