Academic opinion: 'Women are more fairly funded in the social sciences'

Posted by pt91 at Sep 09, 2015 06:00 PM |
Authors of Nature paper comment on the outcomes of their research

Think: Leicester does not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Leicester - it expresses the independent views and opinions of the academic who has authored the piece. If you do not agree with the opinions expressed, and you are a doctoral student/academic at the University of Leicester, you may write a counter opinion for Think: Leicester and send to ap507@le.ac.uk

The role and inclusion of women in science has attracted considerable attention recently. Rightly so, as there is good evidence that women are not being treated equally to men.

One important measure of academic success is the receipt of competitive research funding and our analysis, published this week in Nature, considers whether men and women submitted similar numbers of applications, were equally successful and were awarded grants of similar size by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) – the government body that funds social science research in Universities. Previous studies focusing on biomedical sciences have shown that women receive significantly smaller grants than men and we wanted to test whether this was the case in the social sciences.

Overall, we found that that between 2008 and 2013 success rates for women and men were equal and that the size of grant awarded was similar. Indeed, women aged under 40 were significantly more successful than men and received slightly larger grants. However, overall women received only two fifths of the ESRC funding. The underlying reason for this is the representation of women in senior positions.

While roughly half of social scientists are women, only 24% of professorial posts in the social sciences at UK universities were held by women. It is the smaller number of women professors that accounts for the fact that men receive much more than half of the funding that was allocated.

Looking at all academic disciplines in the UK, women make up around half of the academic staff in non-professorial positions, but account for less than 20% of professorial appointments. Indeed, it has been estimated that it will take 39 years to redress that imbalance at the current rate of change.

We conclude that significant change is unlikely, without some bold re-structuring and we put forward a series of recommendations aimed both at funding agencies and universities. Like many Universities, Leicester has recognised the need to rebalance and are taking practical steps, including championing women’s roles, revising our promotion criteria and encouraging both women and men to recognise and react to inequality. Gender equality issues must be embedded in work practice and women’s career progression should be supported by promotion criteria that allow for career breaks and part-time working by focussing more on the quality than the quantity of publications and grant awards.

Men and women in our universities are equally talented but, sadly, our academic system has worked against women since its very beginning.  This is both morally unacceptable and detrimental to the advances that we require. We really must change this, and the University of Leicester will be taking practical steps to help deliver fundamental change.

Paul Boyle, Lucy Smith, Nicola Cooper, Kate Williams and Henrietta O’Connor, University of Leicester

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