Gender inequality still exists in higher education

Over the past few decades, there have been increasing attempts to eliminate gender inequality in the UK workplace through the introduction of legislation and development of appropriate organisational HR policies and practices. Yet despite these efforts, recent media reports suggest that gender inequality remains a persistent problem that has yet to be fully resolved. It is perhaps surprising to find that the higher education is one sector where the challenge of achieving gender equality is proving at best to be a slow and laborious process.  Furthermore, it would appear inequality

Gender inequality, professors and the Glass Ceiling

professorsOne area of higher education where gender based inequality is apparently still very prevalent is in the appointment of university professors. This suggests that the ‘Glass Ceiling’, that invisible barrier that prohibits women from continuing their career advancement is still firmly in place.

For example, a report published in The Herald in February 2015 indicates that although there has been some minor improvement in recent years, “just 21.8 per cent of professors at Scottish universities are women, despite the fact they make up 45 per cent of the academic workforce”.  The situation is seemingly even worse in Northern Ireland. Here, a female lecturer who recently won an equity tribunal case, quoted in The Irish Times, suggested that in one specific university in Ireland, although 54% of its lecturers were female, only 13% of professors and 30% of senior lecturers positions were held by women.

Gender inequality in student opinion

studentsWhat is even of equal concern is that gender inequality is not only limited to the management and policy makers in higher educational institutions. It appears from a report in the Times Higher Education section in February 2015, that discriminatory practices towards female university lecturers and professors exists among students as well.  The report, which discussed the outcome of a survey aimed at gathering student opinions about the quality of their professors and lecturers, confirmed that “the words “smart” and “intellect” are more likely to be used in ratings of men than women, and “genius” is more likely to be used to describe male than female professors in all 25 disciplines”.

Addressing the gender equality the challenge

The foundation of education learning is in academia and, in this context, there has been a proliferation of recent literature focused on the causes and consequences of gender inequality and the resolution of this problem. Yet from the reports discussed, it appears that the UK higher education sector has failed to learn from its own research knowledge. One has to ask whether this is because of the continuing existence of a ‘male dominant’ organisational culture in colleges and universities? Furthermore, is it this culture that is creating the environment for gender discrimination towards lecturers by students?

Whatever the causes of the current gender inequality situation in higher education, it is critical that steps are taken to address the situation. Managers and policymakers need to revisit their own research on gender inequality practices and the ‘Glass Ceiling’ and put into practice their own findings on how to address the issue. If this does not happen, it is likely that, as students graducate, gender discrimatory practices will continue to be a problem in other industry sectors.

It would be interesting to hear your views on this issue. Please feel free to leave a comment

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