The Department of Education’s newly launched Gender Action Plan 2018-2020 calls for professors in higher education institutions across the country to be comprised of a minimum 40% women and 40% men by 2024.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor are launching the report today with the recommendation that an institution’s performance in addressing gender inequality funding for universities and institutes of technology should be incentivised with additional funding.
Announcing the plan, Varadkar stated: “We know that diversity and broad representation leads to better decision-making and a more productive environment and workforce.”
Varadkar outlined that the government hopes to create a “more effective and inclusive higher education sector” and emphasised the importance of having “female role models” in order to encourage female students to aspire to “holding the top jobs in their future workplace”.
The plan recommends that all higher education institutions should be required to set short-, medium- and long-term targets for the proportion of people of each gender which it aims to have at senior levels of academic, management and support staff.
The government intends to fund the creation of up to 10 women-only posts at universities, with salaries starting at around €80,000 to €115,000. The move is an attempt to address gender inequality among leadership positions. Irish universities have never seen a woman in the role of President, including Trinity, which has seen 44 successive men take on the role of Provost.
The Irish Independent is today reporting that this move may “very likely” result in a challenge in the courts. Mitchell O’Connor said that a “decisive response is now imperative” in order to reach her goal of “40% of professors within our institutions to be female by 2024”. She went on to state that “our Higher Education Institutions should always be beacons of equality, diversity and inclusion . . . I know that the targets contained within this report will affect real change”.
The Department of Education plan also proposes that Government should oversee the process of an institution appointing a new President in order to ensure that measures are in place to promote gender equality within the selection process.
The Irish Universities Association (IUA) announced its support for the plan, noting that it is “fully committed to working with the Minister and Department of Education and Skills to implement the recommendations arising from the Report, in order to bring about meaningful and sustainable change in gender equality in universities”. IUA Director General Jim Miley called the plan an “opportunity” to create a “step-change in gender equality across higher education”.