Research just published by sociology professor at the University of Limerick, Pat O’Connor, has revealed that the management teams in Irish Universities believe that women themselves are the chief cause of the gender imbalance in higher education.
A focus on “fixing the women” is required in order to achieve a gender balance in third level education, according to the survey of 34 of the senior managers in Irish universities.
Prof O’Connor said: “As they [the senior management] saw it, women lacked career ambition, they were poor at marketing themselves, they lacked political skills and had lifestyles that were unhelpful.”
This view of women as “the problem” was particularly prevalent where the managers in question had only worked in the Irish university system, where women currently hold only 19% of senior management positions, and there has never been a female president. In contrast, men with a background in the private sector or abroad were more likely to see the problem as being with the system, or the organisation.
Here, a propensity to look after male colleagues rather than attempting to ensure proper representation of women exists. O’Connor said: “Not al men are like this, but it can be a bit too cosy in a set-up that favours men.”
With no female presidents in Irish universities and only 14% of deputy presidents being women, Prof O’Connor believes the male dominance at senior management level reflected the choices of the male presidents.
She said: “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.”
Chief Executive of the Higher Education Authority (HEA), Tom Boland, believes the findings in Prof O’Connor’s study set a challenge for university management teams “to put in place strategies, targets and key performance indicators” to create more widespread gender diversity in the higher education system.
The HEA is currently finalising its objectives for academia, research and teaching, and O’Connor feels this presents an opportunity to actively set goals in relation to gender diversity in staffing, as performance indicators for each university.
The changes required for gender diversity in Irish universities aren’t happening fast enough, according to Prof O’Connor. “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.”
The research was published in Prof O’Connor’s book, Management and Gender in Irish Education, which was launched at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin last Sunday.