Women are still failing to get the top jobs in higher education. There’s a “leaky pipeline” somewhere, says a new report. “That’ll need fixing then,” we say.
The corporate world might be gung-ho about its efforts to redress the women-in-top-jobs balance but academia seems to be lagging behind. A new drive to inspire women to strive for the top jobs in higher education hopes to tackle this.
Campaigning to encourage women into academia has traditionally focused on the fields of science, technology and medicine. But even in disciplines with more women overall, research has shown that most of those women are early or mid-career: few are reaching the most senior levels of academic recognition.
Women in Academia Now is a new project led by female academics at the University of St Andrews; Dr Aileen Fyfe of the School of History, Professor Ineke De Moortel of the School of Mathematics and Professor Sharon Ashbrook of the School of Chemistry.
The project – supported by the Young Academy of Scotland, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Wellcome Trust – has published a booklet, detailing the careers of female members of the Young Academy of Scotland.
Somewhat worryingly, the project’s accompanying booklet, Academic Women Now, suggests that overseas appointments and fellowships might be key to success. Just 10 of the 33 women highlighted made their careers solely in Britain.
The rest include 14 migrants (predominantly from the EU and North America), and seven Britons, who have spent time abroad. Half of those women in the sciences held long-term – five years plus – personal fellowships, such as a Royal Society University Research Fellowship or an RCUK (Research Councils UK) fellowship, early in their careers.
The research suggests that these fellowships early on allow the women to establish their research teams (and, in some cases, start families without compromising their careers).
It is also suggested that a lack of fellowships in humanities could be a barrier to women in this area.
“The perception of the humanities and social sciences as much more female-friendly has led to (mistaken) complacency,” say the researchers.
“It is true that, in 2014-15, there was a higher proportion of women in humanities (45 per cent) and social sciences (42 per cent) disciplines than in the natural sciences (30 per cent) or engineering (17 per cent); but the only fields where women academics outnumber men are in medical sciences and education. And the continuing small numbers of senior women in all fields shows that the sciences are not the only fields with a leaky or, perhaps, blocked pipeline.”
“By focusing on the mid-career stage, the booklet aims to offer a set of role models for early career researchers, many of whom still harbour doubts about whether academia is a good career for women.”
One woman interviewed says: “Securing my first book contract was difficult, and without it I struggled to get interviews for permanent posts. I enjoyed many of my postdoc positions, but found the lack of job security stressful and ended up moving hundreds of miles apart from my partner for work for several years.
“Maintaining a work/life balance remains an ongoing challenge…”
Another, a physicist, says: “Going back to work full time after maternity leave was challenging. My partner is also an academic in physics, but he works in a different city. During my maternity leave, we lived together with our son in my partner’s city.
“When I went back to work full time after my maternity leave, I moved back to Edinburgh with our son. At the university eight hours a day, starting a new research project, then looking after a toddler eight hours a day is challenging.
“And no, I didn’t spend the other eight hours asleep. That was for cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, the occasional glass of wine, email… as well as sleep.”
By focusing on the mid-career stage, the booklet aims to offer a set of role models for early career researchers, many of whom still harbour doubts about whether academia is a good career for women.
“We realise this booklet does not feature sufficient women for a meaningful statistical analysis,” the researchers say.
“What it can do, we hope, is act as a talking point and an inspiration for further discussion and study about the career progression of women in different disciplines across the entire academy.”3488 Views