New research published in the journal Education Sciences suggests that women remain disproportionately under-represented in senior academic positions within New Zealand universities.
The study has shown that from 2012 to 2017 there was little if any improvement in gender parity in senior roles at all eight or our universities – the University of Auckland, Auckland University of Technology, University of Waikato, Massey University, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Canterbury, Lincoln University and University of Otago.
Existing gender diversity programmes appear to have had limited impact
“We’re still seeing an absence of women at the higher levels of academic employment across New Zealand universities,” says the study’s lead author Dr Leilani Walker, Te Pūnaha Matatini Associate Investigator.
“There are disproportionately fewer women in senior lecturer, professor positions and so forth, and this is in spite of various programmes that have been developed to try to improve the situation. Based on the data we have, it looks like women are proceeding up the academic promotion ladder at a slower rate than their male colleagues.”
Most of our universities, except for the University of Canterbury and Lincoln University, had equitable proportions of women in their academic work forces in 2017. However, the study found that men dominated the more senior employment roles, making up 64-69% of Associate Professors/Heads of Department and 74%-81% of Professors/Deans – from 2012 to 2017.
Consistent with previous research, gender disparities in senior university roles within New Zealand could not be explained by male and female age difference distributions.
Potential need for institutions to review their promotion processes
These findings may provide a timely opportunity for New Zealand’s academic institutions to review and update their processes around hiring and promotion, says Dr Walker.
“We have a variety of programmes at New Zealand universities that try and help promote the careers of women into more senior positions, but it’s not really apparent in our minds whether they work,” Dr Walker says.
“We also question the extent to which just increasing the number of people present can create a culture change. Should we instead be starting to look at ways of engendering a culture tilt, rather than just getting more bodies in the room?”
“Perhaps we should be looking at existing models being used to judge success,” says Dr Walker. “The careers of female academics are often disrupted by life’s other priorities – for example, parental leave or to care for parents – and such interruptions can impact their research performance. If New Zealand universities continue to measure academic success based on the assumption of a linear, straight-forward career path, then any deviations will continue to disadvantage women.”
About the study authors
Dr Walker’s co-authors on this paper are all investigators at Te Pūnaha Matatini. They include Dr Tara McAllister (Te Aitanga ā Māhaki, Ngāti Porou), Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland, Dr Isabelle Sin, Research Fellow, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research in Wellington, Associate Professor Cate Macinnis-Ng, School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland, and Kate Hannah, Deputy Director, Equity & Diversity Te Pūnaha Matatini.
Feature photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.