Few issues appear more frequently in the pages of Times Higher Education than gender equality. Recent weeks have been no exception, with articles outlining the pervasiveness of “impostor syndrome” among female academics, students’ bias against female lecturers in teaching evaluations, and the culture of “passive bullying” faced by black women working in UK universities.
We have also written extensively about what can be done to end the under-representation of women in senior posts, whether the answer lies in anonymising recruitment, hiring quotas or mentoring – or, perhaps, a mix of these approaches and other solutions, too.
But the fact that we – and the sector as a whole – keep returning to this issue clearly indicates that the progress that is so desperately needed is not happening quickly enough, and that the cycle of marginalisation and harassment that holds back women in their careers and forces some out of the sector altogether is yet to be broken.
Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, it is only right that we should critically examine the role that THE plays and, in particular, the representation of female voices in our coverage.
A snapshot of four key sections in a 12-week period offers some sobering statistics. Counting the external (non-staff) authors of our features and opinion articles, and those individuals quoted in stories on our most prominent news pages (the first two pages of coverage on pages 6 and 7) and interviewed for our HE & Me profile slot, 66 per cent of the individuals were male and only 34 per cent were female.
This is only a snapshot, excluding the bulk of news and other sections, and it says nothing about the substance of individuals’ contributions or about other variables such as ethnicity. Nevertheless, it makes it clear that we have more to do.
Some of the efforts we have made to improve diversity are paying off. In HE & Me, a prominent slot that profiles higher education figures from the great and good to the grass roots, two-thirds of interviewees were female and only a third were male. We have paid particular attention to ensuring that this section celebrates the diversity of the higher education sector.
In our features pages, where we arguably give the most careful consideration to commissioning, and where the production cycle is longest, the gender mix was more equal: 57 per cent of authors were male and 43 per cent were female.
It was in the opinions section and on the front news spread that the over-representation of men was greatest. Across the opinion pieces considered, 73 per cent of writers were male and only 27 per cent were female. On the front spread, the split was 69 per cent versus 31 per cent.
In news, journalists on a tight deadline frequently approach senior academics who have commented on similar issues in the past, and evidently these are, too often, men. A sample of our submissions inbox suggests that men pitch opinion pieces more frequently than women, and on a wider range of topics, too. Both sections, however, rely on experts being keen to participate and feeling free to share sometimes controversial opinions on potentially divisive topics.
It seems likely that some women may feel more reluctant to put their head above the parapet because they are typically in less senior posts and are disproportionately burdened with administrative and caring responsibilities, compared with men. Women may be more likely to be on insecure contracts, and can face particularly nasty online abuse, too.
As a publication strongly rooted in the higher education sector, our journalism will always be shaped in part by the institutions that we cover. But that does not mean that we should not strive to be agents of change.
We should reflect on our own gender mix and on any unconscious biases that come with that: I write this as a white man who has benefited from the privileges that brings in our society, while both the editor and the features and opinions editor of THE are male. Across the team, the gender balance is more equal.
I want to encourage female academics and higher education professionals, and those from ethnic minorities and with disabilities, to share their views on the wide range of issues facing higher education. We want to hear from you, but often we will not know your stories unless you get in touch.
Most importantly, however, we will redouble our efforts to feature female voices more prominently, and to ensure that our journalism helps to bring desperately needed equality closer.
Data analysis for this article was conducted by Bethan Sexton.