For the first time the University of Sussex has put together equality figures which reveal that despite 53.2% of university staff being female, only 37.9% of academic positions are held by women.
Furthermore, only 16.1% of leadership positions are currently secured by women. The report, which was published at the end of last term by the Equality and Diversity Committee, showed that while the number of female academic teaching staff and senior lecturers had increased since 2008, the number of female lecturers, academic medical teaching staff and professors had fallen.
In early 2009 it was widely reported in the national press that women were likely to bear the brunt of the recession, but in November 2009, The Times reported that “women get more jobs in the recession” due to the fact that more part-time jobs are being taken by women, filling the gap left by men who have been made redundant from their full time jobs.
However the decision to describe this phenomenon as “women taking men’s jobs” contradicts their reporting of 12,000 full-time redundancies for men in contrast to 68,000 full-time redundancies for women.
The findings of the Equality and Diversity Committee also suggest that men are not having too hard a time finding jobs as, despite over 60% of new Social Science academic staff being women, 65% of new appointments in Science are men and almost 90% of new Arts and Humanities staff are men.
It could be claimed that the drop in percentage of female staff in the majority of academic roles simply mirrors a national trend, especially as the University of Sussex claims to being committed to gender equality as seen in the University’s Gender Equality Scheme.
However it is somewhat difficult not to be cynical about these measures, which are currently being undermined by the university management’s proposal to cut or privatise the university crèche and nursery. Such a move would be likely to compromise the decision of many women as to whether or not they take up academic positions at the university if they have, or are planning to have, children.
The Equality and Diversity Committee’s report also boasts that “Paternity provision was increased to two weeks full pay with effect from 1 September 2009” which means that the additional weeks that are needed to care for a baby must be sacrificed by women who are able to receive up to 39 weeks of paid maternity leave. The university’s extension of paternity leave to two weeks also sounds less impressive considering that government policy has entitled men to up to two weeks paternity leave since 2003.
The unequal distribution of parental leave reflects the fact that women continue to be largely responsible for childcare and unpaid domestic labour, which has been cited as one of the main failures of the second wave feminist movement.
Although women are now fully incorporated into the workforce and indeed have very little choice as to whether or not they take paid work, given that most households can no longer survive on a single income, they are still responsible for the majority of unpaid domestic work such as cleaning, cooking, childcare and care for the elderly. This factor significantly contributes towards women’s greater participation in part-time rather than full-time employment and thus towards women’s marginalisation in the academy. While gender discrimination is therefore not limited to educational institutions, universities do have a reputation for sexism due in part to that fact that academic teaching is male dominated.
In 2009 The Times Higher Educational Supplement published an article in which Terence Kealey, Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University, advised male lecturers to “enjoy” female students as a “perk” of the job and blamed female students’ fantasies for sexual relationships developing between staff and students.
He added: “An affair between a student and her academic lover represents an abuse of his power”. This indicates that while university management teams may say they are committed to gender equality, their views on what constitutes such equality may be slightly flawed.
The report of the Equality and Diversity Committee is available for all students to read on Sussex Direct documents under Council paper C/201/21.