Trinity is set to introduce “wide-reaching” and “ambitious” reforms as part of a new plan to improve gender equality among the university’s staff, as the Irish higher education system begins to tackle the persistent gender inequalities across colleges and universities.
The new Gender Implementation Plan comes in the wake of a report by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) that found widespread gender inequality across Irish universities. The report, published in June, set out a number of suggestions that higher education institutions should implement in order to improve the position of women in Irish colleges and universities.
Speaking to The University Times via email, Trinity’s Equality Officer, Aoife Crawford, said that the HEA report “provides up-to-date insight into the gender equality challenges throughout Irish higher education and a set of recommended actions for the entire sector”.
The HEA report showed that women continue to be vastly underrepresented in top positions within the higher education sector. The report noted that out of all Irish universities, women only occupied 19 per cent of professor roles compared to 81 per cent of men.
Gender inequality in higher education has become one of the biggest issues facing the sector in recent years. In one of the more high-profile examples of gender inequality, the Equality Tribunal found that Dr Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington, a former lecturer at NUI Galway, was discriminated against when she was turned down for a promotion in 2009.
A report commissioned by the College Board and published in April found that women in Trinity make up only 16 per cent of chair professor positions, compared to 84 per cent of men. At the current rate of change, according to the report, this gap would not be corrected until 2098.
This is despite the fact that 53 per cent of Trinity’s workforce is female and that 44 per cent of academic staff are women.
In Trinity’s STEM departments, the report finds that women make up 46 per cent of research staff. This compares to a majority of 60 per cent of female researchers in non-STEM areas.
The Director of the Centre for Women in Science and Engineering Research in Trinity, Prof Eileen Drew, speaking in a press release ahead of the visit to Trinity of the President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Prof Anne Dowling, last week, said: “It is no longer acceptable to consider ‘the norm of 10 per cent to 20 per cent’ women as adequate in such a challenging profession that has such a critical role in the economy.”
Trinity’s report also showed that men made up to 77 per cent of Professorial Fellowships from 2006 to 2015, as well as 85 per cent of Honorary Fellowships and 68 per cent of Junior Fellows. Women, however, had the majority in Fellowship for first time in 2015, at 54 per cent.
The new plan, which is being led by the Vice-Provost and the Chief Academic Officer, Prof Chris Morash, will be brought to the College Board by the end of 2016.
Crawford expressed her enthusiasm for the plan: “Trinity is committed to gender equality both as a social good and as a driver of excellence.”
“The recommendations are wide-reaching and ambitious, and an in-depth consideration of their application in the Trinity context is essential to ensure we use this opportunity to complement and build on our ongoing actions and strategic goals for gender equality”, Crawford added.
The Gender Implementation Plan will be drafted by a subcommittee of the Equality Committee and will have College-wide contribution from experts on gender equality and human resources. One such reform is that the interview pool for a leadership position must have equal numbers of men and women. If this does not happen, the interview panel must account for the reason that this did not occur to the appropriate governing body.
As well as this, the new plan will address the appointment of deans and heads of schools and will require a demonstration of the newly appointed commitment to gender equality. The goal is for the plan to take into account these requirements and build on existing gender equality policies, as detailed in Trinity’s Equality Policy, as well as taking into account the institutional Athena Swan Gender Action Plan.
The Athena Swan award is a scheme where efforts to pursue greater gender equality are recognised and rewarded. A combined effort of the Athena Project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network, the organisation was established in the UK by the Equality Challenge Unit and are active in Ireland across the seven universities, as well as the HEA, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Irish Research Council (IRC) and the Irish University Association (IUA). The Athena Swan charter was launched in Ireland in February of 2015, with support of then-Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan.
The HEA report revealed that Trinity performed well in terms of gender equality in comparison to other Irish universities. The report found that 48 per cent of governing authority positions within the university were filled by women compared to the national average of 39 percent.
In January, College Board approved the introduction of a revised tenure-track employment model for entry-level academics. The initial model, revealed by The University Times in September last year, was widely criticised due to the detrimental impact of tenure-track on women. Speaking to The University Times in July, then-Vice-Provost, Linda Hogan, admitted that the introduction of the model was a “risk” but emphasised that under the model, Trinity has a “fully functional, properly-supported mentoring scheme” and formal supports for heads of schools.