Report highlights lack of women and BME university professors

29 January 2013 | last updated: 10 December 2015

A report, published today by UCU, warns that at the current pace of change it will take almost 40 years (38.8) for the proportion of female professors to reach the same level as the proportion of female staff in universities and almost 16 years (15.8) for black and minority ethnic (BME) staff.

  • Just one in five professors are women, despite making up almost half the non-professorial academic workforce
  • Just one in 14 professors  (7.3%) are from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background
  • White applicants are three times more likely to get a professorial post than BME applicants

While the number of women in higher grades has risen over the past decade, the average under-representation gap of women in all UK higher education institutions (HEIs) - the difference between actual number of female professors and the number there would be if they were represented in same proportion as in other academic grades - is 27%. The average under-representation gap for black and minority ethnic staff is 5.7%.

By submitting a Freedom of Information request, UCU found that across the 23 universities that replied with comprehensive data, over four times as many men applied for professorial posts as women.

In 22 of the 23 institutions, there was a significant drop in the proportion of BME staff from application to appointment for professorial posts.  White applicants are three times as likely to be successful in getting a professorial post as their BME colleagues. 

Other findings* included:

  • Women make up 46.8% (76,500) of non-professorial academic staff across all UK higher education institutions, but only 19.8% (3450) of the professoriate, so there is a representation gap of 4,710 female professors.
  • BME staff make up 13% (19,405) of non-professorial academic staff across all UK higher education institutions but only 7.3% (1195) of professorial roles, so there is a representation gap of 935 BME professors.
  • In 159 of Britain's 164 higher education institutions, women's representation at professorial grade is proportionally lower than their representation at all other academic grades.
  • In 133 of 164 institutions, BME representation at professorial grade is proportionally lower than at all other academic grades. This includes all 24 Russell Group institutions which employ more than half the professoriate.
  • Particular ethnic groups are particularly under-represented among the professoriate: only 0.4% of the UK professoriate are Black, and only 3.6% of UK Black academic staff are in a professoriate position, compared with 11.1% of UK white staff.
  • The gender pay gap for full-time employees in the professoriate fluctuated between 2003/4 and 2010/11 at around 6% in favour of males.
  • On average, female professors earn 6.3% (£4,828) less than their male counterparts.
  • Overall data for UK showed Black professors earned 9.4% less than white counterparts, Chinese professors earned 6.7% less, mixed race 3.5% less, while Asian professors earned 4% more.

The report has called for universities to take decisive steps to address the shortage of women and black and minority ethnic (BME) staff in the upper echelons of academia, including:

  • introduce a transparent professorial grading structure
  • collate and retain equality data in relation to recruitment and retention
  • set targets with specific time frames
  • monitor and review targets
  • introduce equal pay audits
  • work with unions to find out why so few women apply for professorial posts.

The union has issued guidance to its workplace-based branches about how to work with institutions to improve representation.

UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We are allowing thousands of staff, who have built up years of knowledge and experience, never to realise their full potential. It's like athletes training to Olympic standard but never entering a Games.

'We want universities to take decisive action to stop this terrible waste of talent. They need to examine the reasons why women and black and minority ethnic staff stop climbing the career ladder, and develop new, effective strategies to support them to reach the top.'

The report is available at: www.ucu.org.uk/bmewomenreport

*All data originates from HESA Staff Record, calculations by UCU

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