Women at the Top

By Neale, Jenny | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Women at the Top


Neale, Jenny, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

In an era when there is a great deal of discussion around the achievement of equity goals and the perception in some quarters that gender equity is no longer an issue as the "battle for gender equality has been won" (NCW 2007:7), there is the need to reappraise the situation to ascertain exactly what is happening in universities.

Internationally women are under-represented in the academy and the higher the rank the lower the proportion of women in spite of a rising number of women students in the system. Common factors such as a perceived conflict between the demands of family life and a career, the way in which merit and senior roles are conceptualized, and a range of other cultural and institutional barriers give rise to the 'widely held opinion that that women are strategically excluded from gaining access to top positions in academia' (Siemienska, and Zimmer 2007:19). LeFeuvre (in Siemienska, and Zimmer 2007) indicate that women academics in France are starting to overcome some of the inequities around time spent proportionately in teaching, research and administration when compared to their male colleagues but still face barriers around achieving promotion to higher ranks. Women academics in Spain are "more likely to be excluded from networks of support and as a result more rarely benefit from the possession of academic power" (Vazquez-Cupeiro and Fernandez in Siemienska, and Zimmer 2007:126). As in Finland where professors are appointed by invitation (Husu in Siemienska, and Zimmer 2007) in Italy, the informal systems of recruitment and promotion, ('patronage') operate against the advancement of women as does their time spent on temporary (Sala and Bosisio in Siemienska, and Zimmer 2007) or fixed term contracts (Husu in Siemienska, and Zimmer 2007).

In New Zealand as in many other countries, there are now more women enrolled at university than men. This situation is not reflected in the staffing of universities. Women working in New Zealand universities continue to face a number of institutional barriers and injustices that affect their day-to-day working lives (NCW 2007:68). The slow pace of change and resulting inequity continues to be a concern for both those monitoring discrimination and those affected by it. Research shows that it will take women two to ten years longer than men to achieve promotion (Harper and Sawicka 2001). As Groombridge (2004 quoted in Education Review) asserts, "female academics ... are stranded ... in the 'ivory basement'". The situation is not improving significantly despite numerous initiatives over the past ten years or more. One Vice Chancellor noted that in the last round of promotions/appointments at his university no women applied and there was no apparent reason. Senior managers also noted that some promotion panels have more men on them and there is a "natural tendency to go for candidates who are the same as them". Women need to manage an apparent discrimination in relation to the level of appointment (being appointed at lower levels on the scale), promotion (women not applying as often as men or what they do being undervalued) and the organizational culture

This paper looks at the issues faced by women in attaining a professorial position, the highest academic rank in the university system. It draws on the international literature and information provided by 13 women associate professors, and nine women and 11 men professors at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), as well as 26 (13 women and 13 men) senior managers (Vice Chancellors [VCs], Deputy VCs, Pro VCs and Assistant VCs) from New Zealand's eight universities.

Background

New Zealand, a former British colony, is an island nation of four million people situated in the South Pacific. In 1870 the New Zealand Education Act created a colonial university, the University of New Zealand. Then, in 1957, the University of New Zealand was disestablished and all of the university colleges became universities in their own right under a separate act of parliament for each one.

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