Tuesday, March 8, 2016

International Womens Day

It is International Womens Day and Twitter has been all abuzz with discussions of famous and historical and inspirational women. From Heloise in the Middle Ages to JK Rowling in the present, today is a day for promoting the achieviements of women in a world which still sees us on unequal footing with men in too many respects.

So, I started thinking about women I can look up to and aspire to in my own work. I am specifically thinking about leadership roles in universities, and here is where is gets rather disappointing. 

University administration / professional services (whatever you want to call it) is awash with women. There is no doubt about that. Yet, many women get stuck in middle management and don't progress to the top roles in universties. 

Recently, the appointment of Oxford's first female Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson has made headlines for vaunting the progress of the institution in appointing a woman to the top-role. And this was followed swiftly by the news that St Andrews was appointing it's second female Vice-Chancellor in a row. 

Great! That's progress, yes!?

Undoubtedly, these are welcome appointments which will hopefully help to continually change the gendered landscape of university leadership. Yet, look at this list of Vice-Chancellors from Wikipedia. Of the 127 universities listed, there are 25 female Vice-Chancellors.* That is already pretty poor. Them, if you look at those 25 women, only 5 are leading Russell Group universities. So, while there are women to look up to and aspire to in university leadership, in reality they are thin on the ground. Much of the problem stems from the academic inequality, where the number of female professors is disproportionately lower than their male counterparts. Vice-Chancellors traditionally are senior academics, so if we consider that only 22% of professors are female in the UK, then the pool of choices for Vice-Chancellorships will obviously be reduced. So, the problem needs to be tackled at an earlier stage by promoting and striving for greater parity between male and female professors.

One final area is in the more professional role of Registrar (or Secretary) of universities, a role which is equivalent to the Chief Operating Officer where the Vice-Chancellor acts like a CEO. Now, I don't have time to go through all 127 universities on the Wikipedia list, so I looked at the Russell Group. Out of the 23 institutions, a quick look told me that 5 are female and 16 are male (there were 2 which I couldn't readily find the information).

On this International Womens Day it is important to celebrate those women leading the way for others (and in this example, leading universities), but there is so much more work to be done. I hope to have a long and fulfilling career in universities, and I hope that in the future there will be increased parity across the board. While I celebrate Oxford's first female VC, I hope for a day when the appointment of female Vice-Chancellors and Registrars doesn't make headlines. 

It will simply be the norm...

*I have updated and changed Louise Richardson for Andrew Hamilton, and included Sally Mapstone who will be the new VC of St Andrews.

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