Photo by Times Higher Education (THE)
Try to imagine a nation:
A nation in which only a fifth of their higher education institutions are led by female vice-chancellors. One where despite accounting for 45% of the academic personnel- only 20% of professorships are held by women. A nation where within this small figure of professors, there are only 17 black women. A nation where female academics earn 11.3% less than their male counterparts, on average. That’s about £5700 less. A nation in which female professors are paid 5.8% less than male colleagues.
What nation comes to mind? Is your answer the United Kingdom? I didn’t think so.
When we think of equality often we assume that the United Kingdom—where we live and women work, study and take part in all sectors—is completely fair when it comes to gender. Instead we focus on encouraging or even criticising other countries for how they can improve gender equality- because we treat women the same right? After all, we have a female Prime Minister.
These alarming statistics present to us the inherent patriarchy within our institutions, even in academia. To ensure gender equality is found within our academic workforce, it is crucial we understand why? Why are there less women than men taking part in academic careers? Why are these men being paid higher than those women who have taken part?
To be a man means to lead
Institutions, whether they are economic, governmental or academic, are all dominated by male bodies. Naturally, women and men are both associated with stereotypes which lead to gendered roles within society. Men are seen as active, women as passive; men as agents, women as victims; men as rational and women as emotional. Subconsciously, it leads us to assume men are the leaders who earn higher than women. This is otherwise known as patriarchy. We can implement laws, policies and actions which strive to empower women into unconventional roles within society. But this will not be enough. We cannot have higher numbers of women in the academic workforce, until we fully diminish this institutionalised patriarchy and other male dominant institutions. To empower women fully, we must implement into society that an individual’s success within the academic workforce is not dependent on their gender.
What about the children?
It is easier said than done to just remove some of these historic socially-constructed norms attached to both men and women. One of these norms for a woman is the assumptive role of taking care of those at home; “the mother”. Academia as a career can often mean unpredictable, lengthy hours. Due to the societal role of “the mother”, many women are discouraged from the career of an academic. How are they expected to do both roles of mother and academic? It is this fear which means despite the attempts of the government through implementation of laws such as the Equal Pay Act of 2006 and recent figures indicating more women wanting careers in Academia (figures rising to 36 %)—the patriarchy will not be diminished within this institutions. Further, this institutionalised role of “the mother” not only prevents women from joining the career of an academic, but it may also prevent them from succeeding within the role too.
Not only this, but there are limits to which fields women should partake in. To be a female academic, it is often presumed you are “a white feminist”. A woman’s study is equated with fields such as sociology or creative arts. In a room of academics where there may be the odd equal distribution of gender, you will find typically senior women to be within a career of human resources, while a man will be in one such as finance. This demonstrates a gender bias within the selection of fields of study too. A woman should not have to choose a career dependent on what is compatible with her societal expectations, but a career in which she herself desires and can thrive in.
Present a change
This dominance of male bodies cannot continue within the academic workforce. The institutionalisation of the patriarchy within academia hugely impacts a woman’s likelihood in partaking. She will not be inspired if there are limits to her succeeding in the career; to her being paid what she deserves; and even what subject she is more likely to excel in.
Only when these societal expectations of her gender diminish, and the existing patriarchal structure of society of broken down, will a woman feel confident in pursuing whatever career she pleases. Whether it be economy, government or academia. We must continue to empower women to disregard their gender expectations and to pursue what they desire; even if there are stumbling blocks. Only then will we see the end of gender expectations for our academics.
There is always more to be done when empowering women.
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