Applications were opened this morning by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) for several women-only professorial and senior lecturer positions within higher education institutions.
These positions are part of the government’s Senior Academic Leadership Initiative, which is targeted at addressing the gender imbalance at the top of Irish academia.
Women account for only 24% of professors in universities across Ireland, despite comprising 51% of lecturers. Similarly, only 36% of senior lecturer positions in institutes of technology are held by women, despite women accounting for 45% of lecturers. Positions as heads of Irish universities have exclusively been held by men, including in Trinity, which is currently led by Provost Patrick Pendergast.
Higher education institutions must develop a gender action plan and show progression on their gender equality objectives and targets before securing funding for additional posts under the new initiative.
Following the announcement of women-only positions, speculation emerged as to whether the move would encounter legal challenges. However, the Attorney General has confirmed that in his view the initiative is consistent with EU and national employment and equality law.
Speaking today on the opening of applications, Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mithcell O’Connor described the move as “truly a game-changing moment in Irish academia”.
“This intervention will ensure a swifter gender re-balance, addressing the current under-representation of women at the highest levels of our institutions,” she continued.
The Minister praised “the excellence of our female academics and their vast contribution to research and education”, while expressing disappointment that this “has not yet resulted in an appropriate level of representation of women at the highest levels”.
She added that it is “heartening” to “think that the many thousands of young people about to enter third level education for the first time will start to see an increase in female representation at the highest level of their institution during their time in higher education”.
The initiative follows the 2018 Gender Equality Taskforce Action Plan which suggested that without change made to current recruitment and promotion practices, it could take up to 20 years to achieve an average of 40% women at professor level in the university sector. The Taskforce recommended that new gender-specific posts should be considered in order to counter the gender imbalance.
The additional funding for the new posts is expected to amount to €3m in 2020, reaching nearly €5m in 2021.
The Irish Universities Association (IUA) released a statement welcoming the initiative, outlining: “Our member universities are enthusiastic about engaging in this positive initiative to address the gender imbalance at senior academic level.”
The government was keen to stress that those women who would fill these new positions would be subject to the same high standard and assessment processes that currently applies to all academic appointments in higher education institutions.