Gender Differences in Grant Success

Posted by pt91 at Sep 09, 2015 06:00 PM |
Paul Boyle, Lucy Smith, Nicola Cooper, Kate Williams and Henrietta O’Connor, University of Leicester
Gender Differences in Grant Success

Lecture via Matej Kastelic/

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The role and inclusion of women in science has attracted considerable attention recently. Rightly so. This week, Athene Donald has highlighted the early years, and the socialisation of girls as they develop is likely to have a role in women’s subsequent careers. However, we also need to focus on how women succeed once they have embarked on a career in academia.

One important measure of 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. Previous studies show that women’s success rates are worse than men’s in European Research Council funding, while data from the Wellcome Trust show that women in biomedical sciences receive significantly smaller grants than men. We compared how well women and men fare in the social sciences. It is true to say that women are better represented across the social science disciplines than they are in STEM subjects, but we remain far from equality.

Overall, we found that that between 2008 and 2013, accounting for academic position, success rates for women and men were equal, and 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 there was a similar number of men and women in non-Professorial social science positions in the UK, less than a quarter of Professorial positions were held by women. Women Professors were as successful as their male counterparts, but because there were fewer of them, far more grants were awarded to men.

Fortunately, much is already being done in the UK to try and redress this imbalance. The Research Councils have published a concordat which includes expectations for both themselves and the institutions that receive their funding. Notably under Sally Davies the National Institute for Health Research has taken bold steps to link eligibility for funding to Athena Swan performance.

Even so, we argue that there are structural impediments to gender equality in academia and are cognisant that across UK academia as a whole less than a fifth of all Professors are women, and according to UCU at the current pace of change it will take 39 years for women to be represented equally among the UK professoriate. Women still do not have the same work/life balances or child or parental care responsibilities as men, so unless structural changes are implemented within universities and funding agencies, change will be slow. Like many Universities, Leicester itself 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.

Our paper also includes a series of recommendations including that all the funding agencies should submit their data annually to independent scrutiny of gender differences in applications, success rates and award sizes, and that the funding agencies and universities should come together to discuss these and other strategies.

We are therefore supporting the United Nations global HeForShe movement, which aims to engage and encourage one billion men and boys to take action against the gender inequality which women face across the world.  Ten Prime Ministers, ten CEOs of global companies and ten universities have been chosen worldwide to act as HeForShe impact champions to lead this initiative, and we are proud both that the University of Leicester is one of those ten, and that the United Nations will be launching its UK initiative at our University later this month.

It seems particularly fitting that the University of Leicester should be championing women’s equality because when the university was founded in 1921, eight of our first nine students were women. There is no good reason for women to be under-represented in senior posts. It is clearly not a result of innate differences in intelligence or ability. Gender equality is not a matter of being ‘nice’ to women. In the higher education context it means ensuring the very best people go into and remain in research and teaching for the benefit of society. Women in our universities are just as imaginative and talented as men but, sadly, our academic system has worked against them since its very beginning.  We really must change this.

On 29 September, the UN will launch their UK HeForShe movement at the University of Leicester.

Read this article on The Conversation.

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