Academia Struggles with Gender Balance Worldwide

Although women are making progress in UK universities with numbers reaching 1 in 5 – up from 3% in 1989 – a more dedicated effort is required to bring gender parity to higher education classrooms and offices, writes Louise Tickle for The Guardian. The picture is even more dire in other parts of the world where while women are making gains in college education, the number of females in professorial roles continues to lag substantially.

Many women's rights activists are seeing this as foot dragging by the establishment and are now demanding a radical solution that will finally bring more women into higher positions of power in academia. A number of such proposals were voiced at the Going Global conference held in Dubai and sponsored by the British Council which dealt with issues of gender equality on the global scale. Among the suggestions was making gender parity one of the markers on which the overall quality of international institutions is judged.

Schools where the number of senior positions was filled mainly by men would have their international rankings suffer as a result.

It's the first demand of six in what is being called a Manifesto for Change for Women in Academic Leadership and Research. Female academics, the manifesto says, must also start getting a lot more of the big money for research projects, with "gender implications and impact" being included by grant making bodies as criteria against which funding applications are assessed.

Other points include a requirement for "mainstreaming", so that diversity is fundamentally incorporated in all of a university's practices and procedures, and the creation of a global database on women and leadership in higher education, so that it's easier to see how slowly – or indeed how fast – the situation improves country by country.

Similar conferences are being held by the British Council in places like Tokyo and Hong Kong, all with the aim of figuring out why gender parity in university settings seems to be lagging all over the world. Professor Louise Morley, who analyzed data from institutions of higher education from around the world for the Centre of Higher Education and Equality Research said that similar patterns if gender disparity in play in almost every country she looked at.

"Barriers include the failure to recognize, identify and nurture women's talent, the gendered division of labour inside the academy, with women frequently responsible for the organisational housework, [and the] view that men are more suited to leadership authority," says Morley.

Even when strides have been made to close the gap, the result is not always good news. According to Morley, in countries where women have made strides in academia the prestige of academic work fell as a result. In Philippines and Sri Lanka, for example, as women penetrate the upper echelon of higher education systems, pay levels fall and the regard for the profession declines as well.

"Higher education must make appointment of women academic administrators and development of young female academic talents part of their strategic goals. I have seen this to be effective at [my university] with the setting up of gender diversity as a key performance indicator. In addition, the institutes are held accountable for gender diversity and for the remedial measures to be taken where necessary. Until this is done, women academics will continue to be excluded and marginalized from becoming senior, influential players in HE."

03 11, 2013
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