A new taskforce has been launched by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), in order to promote gender equality in Irish universities. The taskforce comes as a result of several reports that condemned the current gender imbalance in our third level institutions.
Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has launched the taskforce which aims to increase recruitment and promote equality in a three-year plan. She states that colleges have ‘nowhere to hide’ when it comes to gender discrimination. The latest reports and figures show that women are severely underrepresented in the senior ranks of most Irish universities. Over half of all lecturers in colleges are female, yet as the ranks progress upwards, female numbers decrease. For example, only 21% of associate professors, and 20% of professors are female. As well as this, there has never been a female president of an Irish university.
There are now talks of fines being imposed on those universities that do not promote gender equality. “We need to send a message loud and clear to the institutions. There is nowhere to hide now. We want to see results. And there will be penalties,” Mary Mitchell O’Connor states. These penalties will come in the form of reduced research funding from the government. State funding will also now be linked to the institution’s performance, and will be withheld if targets are not met.
This measure is being introduced after a report was published last year, highlighting the gender disparity that exists in Irish third level institutions. The national review was carried out by the HEA, and focused on gender inequality in the third-level sphere. Several recommendations were made in the report, including mandatory promotion quotas, as well as penalties for those who fail to introduce new measures.
Mitchell O’Connor emphasises that the higher number of men in senior positions is ‘not because women are not talented or driven enough to fill these roles’.
It was found that women faced numerous barriers to progression in the sector, many of which were not experienced to the same degree by men. These barriers are both conscious and subconscious, and exist in both a cultural and structural sense. The Minister has disregarded the argument that less women are in higher positions due to family commitments, saying that the current state of affairs is “fair and square discrimination”.
There are young women achieving high points and getting into universities, so why are so few of them reaching professorships? Women make up 50% of the population, and deserve to be adequately represented at a higher level. With increasing numbers of students entering third level education, it is vital that this disparity is dealt with. As Mary Mitchell O’Connor said, “What kind of message are we giving to young girls? They need to see role models in third level education”.