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Universities must step up now to tackle gender inequality rather than leaving it to the next generation, Professor Paul Boyle, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, told an international conference.

Addressing 800 heads of state, government ministers and university leaders from across the world in the closing plenary at the British Council’s Going Global conference in Cape Town, South Africa, he outlined how his University is taking a leading role in finding ways to close the gender gap in academia.

Leicester is one of only ten universities worldwide spearheading the United Nations Women’s HeforShe 10x10x10 movement to involve men in the campaign for gender equality.  It is piloting measures to address gender inequality to discover what can most effectively help close the gap. These include requiring promotion panels to look at the quality rather than quantity of research work, because women are more likely to take career breaks; raising awareness among male and female staff of gender equality issues; and monitoring and tracking progress on targets.

“Universities are particularly appropriate to be part of this,” Professor Boyle said.

“First, we have a job to do on our own campuses.  We, like South Africa, have some pretty stark figures. Half of my academic staff are women but less than 25 per cent of professors are women. It is changing, but it is calculated it will take about 40 years before women will equal men in professorial positions within the UK if the rate of change carries on as it does now. If we allow it to take 40 years it effectively means we are asking the next generation to deal with it instead of stepping up ourselves. “

There is no good reason why women should be under-represented in senior posts, Professor Boyle added.

“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 that the very best people reach the top of our institutions for the benefit of society.  We have a big gap - we have a hole - good research ideas which could be happening and are not.  Women in our universities are just as imaginative and talented as men but, sadly, our academic system for decades has worked against women and we really must change this.”

The HeforShe campaign invites men to step up and take some ownership and realise that both men and women have a role to play in thinking about gender equality.

Professor Boyle said: “In the popular mind gender equals women, and men use it to step aside from gender equality, pretending it isn’t for them. So one obstacle in getting men to engage with gender equality is that men don’t really think it is about them, and that is what has to change.”

While HeforShe is “not without its challenges”, it is a positive starting point that has the potential to influence the thinking of future leaders.

“Many of the people we are teaching will have been socialised in various ways, and if we can change their way of thinking we have a huge impact not only in our own universities but in society generally … Universities provide a pipeline for future leaders.”

 

Find out what was debated and said at Going Global, and who said it, in Media FHE's Daily Conference Briefings on the British Council's Going Global website.

 

 

Professor Paul Boyle
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