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Women face greater difficulties than men in advancing to the highest academic positions in Ireland

Gerry O'Sullivan

Posted: 8 March, 2019

Women continue to be underrepresented at senior levels in academia, according to the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

The organisation today welcomed the publication of the SHE Figures 2018 by the European Commission which aims to give an overview of the gender equality situation at pan-European level using a range of indicators on gender equality in research and innovation.  While some progress was observed across Europe, it is still very slow and Ireland is no exception.

Ireland’s Glass Ceiling Index (GCI) continues to be higher (at 2.16) than the EU level of 1.64.  The GCI is used to compare how difficult it is for women to move into a higher academic grade, with a GCI of 1 indicating that there is no difference between women and men in their chance of being promoted.  A score above 1 indicates the presence of a glass ceiling effect meaning that women are less represented in Grade A positions than in academia generally (grades A, B, C).

Proactive measures to try and address this imbalance are being rolled out in Ireland with the launch of a national Gender Action Plan 2018-2020 by the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D., in November 2018.

To accelerate gender equality within a reasonable timescale, the Gender Equality Taskforce has focused on actions that will progress organisational and cultural change such as:

–          Linking HEA block grant funding to an institution’s performance in addressing gender inequality through the Strategic Dialogue process and System Performance Framework;

–          Strengthening the requirement for Athena SWAN certification for all HEIs, and reflecting the increased demands associated with the expanded Charter (which now encompasses all staff and all disciplines whereas previously it was only STEM and academic staff), recommending that institutional Silver be obtained 8 years after first achieving an institutional Bronze;

–          The establishment of a new Centre of Excellence for Gender Equality in the HEA to ensure sustainable acceleration towards gender equality through centralised support for HEIs and dissemination of good practice.

The response of the Minister to the Gender Equality Taskforce Action Plan was to announce that new and additional Senior Academic Leadership posts will be funded in targeted areas where there is a significant under-representation of women and this represents a strong signal that gender equality in Irish higher education is a priority.  This new targeted initiative will compliment the wider organisational and cultural change initiatives recommended by the Gender Equality Taskforce and HEA Expert Group.

The CEO of the HEA, Mr. Paul O’Toole said:

‘Gender equality in higher education institutions will enable them to perform to their full potential. The HEA is fully committed to implementing the recommendations of the HEA Expert Group report and the Gender Equality Taskforce Actions, to ensure there is sustainable acceleration of progress towards gender equality.’ 

The Head of Policy and Strategic Planning in the HEA, Dr. Gemma Irvine commented:

‘The reason why women are not currently found in the same proportion as men in the most senior positions is not because women are not talented or driven enough to fill these roles, it is because numerous factors within HEIs, conscious and unconscious, cultural and structural, mean that women face a number of barriers to progression, which are not experienced to the same degree by their male colleagues.’

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