Women demand seat at the tables

Manifesto calls for university rankings to take gender gap into account. David Matthews writes

December 6, 2012

Source: Getty

Dual labours: careers should not founder on family commitments

A university’s ranking in global league tables should be based in part on measures of gender equality, according to a manifesto demanding equality of opportunity and pay for female academics.

The manifesto, agreed by 50 academics from the UK, Australia and Asian countries following a British Council workshop on the subject, also calls for institutions to declare how many of their professors, top researchers and students are female. In 2010, just 29 per cent of researchers worldwide were female, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Katherine Forestier, a senior education consultant at the British Council in Hong Kong, said that this was down to discrimination and to family commitments thwarting women’s career ambitions. “Within their careers they have got to juggle teaching, research, administration and be productive at a time when they have family roles as well. [Juggling these roles] seems to be tougher in academia [than in other professions].”

When deciding on promotions, universities looked at the “quantity…rather than quality” of academic research, which made it difficult for female scholars who took time off to start families, Ms Forestier said.

The issue was something the UK research excellence framework has tried to address by allowing women who have been on maternity leave to submit less research.

Ms Forestier said the next step would be to speak to ranking organisations and to present the proposals at upcoming events. It was a “very realistic” aim to get global league tables to incorporate measures such as the pay gap between men and women and the gender make-up of senior management, she added.

A big problem was the lack of information on female representation and pay, and ranking organisations were in an ideal position to collect these data, she said.

Phil Baty, editor of Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, said that its data partner Thomson Reuters was already collecting some basic gender data and that he would welcome discussions on how this might be used.

Gender inequality is not uniform across countries, Ms Forestier said, noting that at least half the researchers and university leaders in the Philippines - where 5 per cent of the higher education budget goes to support gender issues - are female.

The workshop, Absent Talent: Women in Research and Academic Leadership in East Asia, held in Hong Kong in September, heard that errors in assessing leadership potential and a gender bias in peer review exercises kept women from top positions in journals and institutions.


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