Universities 'need to set targets on gender diversity at the top'

Universities need to set aspirational targets and put action plans in place to boost the number of women in senior roles, according to a new report.

Universities need to set aspirational targets and put action plans in place to boost the number of women in senior roles, according to a new report.

The Gender and Higher Education Leadership: Researching the Careers of Top Management Programme Alumni study by the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice proposes a code of practice for recruitment firms to help address inequality.

Professor Janet Beer [pictured], Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes and chair of the research project’s steering group, says in the report’s foreword: “This research was conducted with women and men who occupy some of the most senior roles in British higher education. It gives us hard evidence to support the contention that it is more difficult for women to be appointed as the chief executive in our universities and colleges.

“Whilst it is true that some of the participants – both men and women – are clear that they do not wish to be considered for the ‘top job’, of those who do, women are less likely to fulfil their ambitions and indeed, their potential.

“Based on the research, the report makes significant recommendations, some of which are already under discussion in a variety of sector bodies, but which need to be rapidly progressed.”

In an article for The Conversation, Professor Beer and Professor Simonetta Manfredi, director of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice, say that, although women are not the majority of students and occupy 45% of academic jobs in the UK, only 27.5% of managers are women and only 17% are vice-chancellors or in principal roles. 

The research focused on the experiences and career trajectories of a sample of alumni from the Leadership Foundation's Top Management Programme. It found women were more likely to be unsuccessful compared to men when applying for leadership roles in the sector and that selection and recruitment processes at this level might be gender biased. Some of the women who took part in the interviews felt that leadership in the sector was “too narrowly defined” and that there was a failure to acknowledge that there might be different ways of carrying out the chief executive role.

Several interviewees raised questions about the role of executive search firms in the selection and recruitment process for senior appointments. The study noted that there was "a perception that these firms may have a disproportionate influence on the hiring process and might be contributing to a reinforcement of the status quo".

The point was also raised that fewer women applicants who are included in long lists make it into shortlists and participants questioned whether this might be the result of a “tokenistic” approach to gender diversity on long and short lists or whether women might be receiving poor advice in terms of the type of positions they should be putting themselves forward for.





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