Professor Paul Boyle spearheads campaign for gender equality

Posted by pt91 at May 12, 2015 04:05 PM |
University of Leicester is among first institutions in the world to join UN programme HeForShe

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I am the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester and I am a man.  This is no great surprise, given that the overwhelming majority of higher education institutions and funding councils are led by men.

Gender imbalance in the leadership of higher education is a serious issue world-wide.  When I arrived at the University in October 2014 I pledged that Leicester would lead the way on gender equality, just as it has done on social inclusion through measures to secure fair and equal access for students from non-traditional backgrounds.  I have made it clear that we are going to champion women throughout the University, and we have taken practical steps to help achieve this, including celebrating women’s successes, changing the constitution of our promotions committees and raising awareness of unconscious bias among staff and students.

So I am proud of the fact that the University of Leicester has been selected to take a leading role in the United Nations Women HeForShe Campaign.

The campaign emphasises the important role of men in achieving gender equality for women, an agenda that has been led for too long mainly by women.  The United Nations Women campaign involves a 10x10x10 impact pilot for which ten global universities, ten global corporations and ten state governments will be chosen to champion gender equality through practical steps.  The University of Leicester is one of the first five Universities to be chosen and five more will join the campaign at a later date.

It seems particularly fitting that the University of Leicester should be trailblazing women’s equality because when it was founded in 1921, eight of its first nine students were women.

Personally, I have been interested in gender equality issues for some time. My own academic research included work on family migration, and its impact on women’s careers and mental health.  The research of others shows that ‘Brian’ is still more likely to be hired in a university than ‘Karen’, even if they have identical cvs, a situation confirmed by the results of a double blind, randomised, controlled trial.  Women academics who are mothers are less likely to be promoted than non-mothers, and are more likely to be on lower salaries.  In 2012 in the EU, for example, women represented 46% of PhD graduates but only 33% of researchers.  And data from research councils has shown that women are far less likely to make submissions for research funding, but when they do submit they are as likely as men to be successful.

Gender equality is not a matter of being nice to women. In a higher education context it is about ensuring that the very best people go into and remain in research and teaching, achieving the greatest results for the benefit of society. It is about making sure that women are not held back by lack of confidence, systems that favour men, or unconscious bias. It is about making sure that women play an equal role in the senior leadership of our universities.

Of course gender equality has to be something embedded in society as a whole.  Thirty institutions, corporations and countries, however committed, cannot do it alone. But we can make a start by backing a campaign that recognises that equality and fairness for women is not a battle against men but a clarion call for both sexes to recognise that the world has changed.

Men and women have a joint responsibility to achieve gender equality for societies around the world. We should aim to deliver fundamental change within a generation, so that organisations such as HeForShe become redundant and my two daughters and two sons take it for granted that they will be judged on their merits, not their gender.

Universities have a crucial role to play because students come to us at a formative stage in their lives and the values learned there will shape their subsequent views significantly.  Of all places, Universities are places where men and women should be treated fairly and equally

At the University of Leicester we will seek to ensure students are equipped to understand the subtle but real impacts of gender stereotyping; we will recognise excellent work undertaken across our campus to promote gender equality; we will continue to explore and address why some disciplines attract few women or men; and we will continue to increase female representation in senior positions, noting that only 22% of professors in UK universities are women. We are enthusiastically promoting the statutory scheme of shared parental leave that allows men to take some or almost all the maternity leave. We are looking carefully at gender equality in our top team, and working towards a change in the culture so that people understand that when looking at promotions and applications for positions there is likely to be a difference between the CVs of men and women.  We need to consider, for example, that the number of publications may be lower for women if they have taken maternity leave and focus on the quality of the research, not the quantity.

We are not starting from scratch.  Gender balance initiatives are already underway and we have successes within our institution on which we can build. We have equal numbers of men and women coming to us, women do just as well in applications, just as well as undergraduates and just as well as postgraduates.  The United Nations Women campaign is an opportunity for us to join with others to build on this further and help achieve genuine cultural change.

Professor Paul Boyle, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester

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