University: A man’s world?

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Almost half (49%) of the lecturers in Irish public universities are women – a fact that seemingly suggests a strong sense of gender equality. However, according to a recent study, all is not quite as it seems.

According to Pat O’Connor, a sociology professor at the University of Limerick, the gender gap widens as we move into more managerial or senior roles.

For instance, the percentage of women at professorial level decreases to 19 per cent, while at deputy presidential level it dips to just 14 per cent. As things currently stand, there are no female presidents in Irish public universities. More shocking still, there never has been one.

Professor O’ Connor’s study, in which 34 senior managers at universities (both male and female) were surveyed, found that the prevailing attitude was that women ‘women lacked career ambition; they were poor at marketing themselves, they lacked political skills, and had lifestyles that were unhelpful’.

Many of the women surveyed believed that their male colleagues viewed them as being challenging, or even frightening.

For Professor O’Connor, changing this climate requires a strong leader who will set an example:

‘If you have someone who’s sensitive to the culture of the organisation, and if he’s not sufficiently strong enough to change that, to create a culture friendly to women, the gender composition of the management team is unlikely to change.’

She went on to suggest that universities should include gender staffing targets as one of the key performance indicators in their service agreements with the Higher Education Authority.

‘There was a time when women had to choose between marriage or a career,’ she said. ‘In the 21st century, are we seriously saying that this is still the type of world we live in? Other countries find a solution. It’s not rocket science.’


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