Thursday 22 August 2019

Creation of 'women-only' university posts not about keeping men out of power, says Mary Mitchell O'Connor

Female-specific roles: Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor at the launch of the Gender Equality Action Plan 2018-2020 back in November. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM
Female-specific roles: Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor at the launch of the Gender Equality Action Plan 2018-2020 back in November. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM

Katherine  Donnelly

The opening up of women-only posts in Irish higher education - which takes place from today - is not about keeping men out of high-powered positions, said Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

“But there is no reason why women should continue to play second fiddle when it comes to seniority,” she added.

Nor does the creation of the 45 new roles, which are being funded by Government under a special initiative, amount to tokenism, she said.

The junior minister for higher education said the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI) was about fixing the problem of “the paltry proportion of women in senior third-level positions”.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor was speaking at the formal call out to colleges to apply to create new women-only professorial and senior lecturer posts under the new initiative.

Up to 15 posts, in areas where women academics are traditionally under-represented, will be filled in the first round, growing to 45 within three years.

Third-level colleges must present proposals for new roles to be considered for SALI funding, and must also show a broader commitment to gender-equality.

READ MORE: Female-only university posts set to be challenged in courts

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said SALI had received some negative backlash since its announcement on November, and concerns had been expressed that lesser-qualified women would secure posts to the detriment of higher-qualified men.

“Let me put your mind to ease, the initiative that is opening today represents new and additional posts over and above what was already in the system. All the opportunities available to men, before this initiative, still prevail.  So the 50 professor posts available annually are still available to them today."

The minister said terms like “may the best man win” or “the best man for the job” - while they may  be throwaway terms - had “nestled far too comfortably into everyday language” and become the norm.

She said legal advice from the Attorney General had confirmed that the policy approach was consistent with EU and national employment and equality law.

She described SALI as “a game-changing initiative in Irish academia”.

READ MORE: Plan for 45 women-only senior jobs in third level institutions

The minister said she was “fully aware that a two-tier system of power dominates certain sectors of society, often for no good reason other than it is simply the norm".

“By this I mean that many women, who are as capable and efficient as their male peers, still work in an environment where their gender holds them back. Let’s call it what it is: gender inequality.”

She referred specifically to the third third-level sector and said it was a place where far-reaching improvements could be made.

A 2018 report showed that in the university sector some 51pc of lecturers were female - but only 24pc of professors were female. In the institute of technology sector, some 45pc of lecturers were female, but only 36pc of senior lecturer positions were held by females.

Analysis carried out by the 2018 Gender Taskforce suggested that with the continuation of current recruitment and promotion practices, it could take up to 20 years to achieve an average of 40pc females at professor level in the university sector.

No woman has ever been a university president and only two out of 14 presidents in the Institutes of Technology are women.

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