Women-only Professorships in Ireland

Earlier this week the Irish Government made an announcement that has ruffled a few feathers: it aims to create a number of new senior positions at Professor level in Irish Universities that are open only to female candidates. I don’t know the details of how this scheme will work, but I understand that the positions will be targeted at subject (and perhaps geographical) areas in which there is a demonstrable gender imbalance and the scheme will cost about €6M.

Reactions to this among people I know have been very varied, so it seems a good topic on which to have a  simplistically binary poll:

For the record, I should state that I am broadly in favour of the idea, but I’d like to know more about how these positions will be allocated to institutions, how they will be advertised and how the recruitment will be done. I’ll also add that my main worry about this initiative is that it might distract attention away from the need for Irish higher education institutions to have much better promotion procedures; see, e.g. here. There are plenty of female lecturers in Irish universities, but they seem to face ridiculous difficulties getting promoted to Professorships.



20 Responses to “Women-only Professorships in Ireland”

  1. Two things: (1) You’re not the only one who’d like to know more – but the government has said it’s not telling anyone until 2019. (2) The announcement *has* distracted your attention (also, to be fair, a lot of peoples’ attention) from the simultaneous announcement of a number of reforms to promotion procedures. If you’re interested, look at https://www.education.ie/en/Press-Events/Press-Releases/2018-press-releases/PR18-11-12.html.

  2. It seems to me that the potential problem with the whole plan is this: statistics in most institutions would seem to indicate that the biggest progression/promotion hurdle for women comes at the Lecturer –> Senior Lecturer line. My fear is that parachuting in some highly qualified female Professors (who, in all likelihood, will be external to the system) will make institutional statistics *look* better without actually improving the situation for those women who are already working in Irish universities (and often finding themselves unable to progress out of ‘junior’ positions). I hope I’m proven wrong.

    • You need to read the entire government proposal, not just the bit that has attracted media attention. The reforms proposed for the appointments process (which the universities have already accepted) should make serious inroads into the failure to promote women, and the financial penalties for failing to hit overall targets for staff gender certainly won’t discourage them from promoting women. Don’t get distracted by the gender-specific appointments, which are a very small part of the picture, and in any event may not survive legal challenge.

      • I wondered whether this move would be lawful actually. I doubt it would be on the UK, where positive discrimination is not allowed. I don’t really know Irish law though.

      • There’s provision in Irish law for ‘measures to promote equal opportunity for men and women .. by removing existing inequalities which affect women’s opportunities in [relation to] promotion’ – there’s some informed discussion of this on boards.ie, see https://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=2057928085 (also a lot of uninformed discussion, of course). Not an area I’m an expert in. But a legal challenge to the financial penalties doesn’t seem very likely (whereas a challenge in relation to the gender-specific posts seems very very likely).

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        There are ‘targets’, then. The question is how they are decided.

      • Precise targets will be decided by negotiation between each institution, the HEA and the Minister. There are of course obvious and severe limits to how quickly it’s possible to change the gender composition of each institution, a point which the universities and ITs will no doubt make the most of in negotiations.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        That’s not quite what I meant by “how”, but thanks for the info!

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    The question of which subjects is not irrelevant here. It also sets a precedent for other ‘minority’ groups.

    A gentleman will always offer a lady a chair…

  4. I hope the proposal does turn out to be legal, I think it can only be a Good Thing, provided the scheme is additional to normal promotion procedures and separately funded. After all, American univesities are full of bespoke Chairs, f I understand correctly

  5. telescoper Says:

    There have been a number of attempts to post comments on this item which violate my policy on comments, so here is a reminder:

    “Feel free to comment on any of the posts on this blog but comments may be moderated; anonymous comments and any considered by me to be abusive will not be accepted.”

    • Thanks for sharing the comment policy. My comments were certainly not abusive or remotely ad hominem and I am posting with my name so I do not understand the problem?

      • telescoper Says:

        There have been many attempted comments other than yours, but in any case ‘Ciaran’ is not a unique identfier in Ireland.

  6. Ciaran O'Neill Says:

    “There are plenty of female lecturers in Irish universities, but they seem to face ridiculous difficulties getting promoted to Professorships.”
    This is the narrative peddled by Minister O’Connor but if one probes it thoroughly one realises it is bogus. The gender task force identified in the most recent study period that there is an increasing % of women getting through (28%) but crucially only 30% of applicants were female. So actually there is very little difference between the two figures and it is possible that there is no significant difference.
    Why is no one discussing this?
    Another point that I feel I need to make that media isn’t covering is a critique of the whole lost opportunity argument. It is often argued that we need a 50% female workforce professors to fully unlock the intellectual potential of the workforce. Although this is a killer argument in the likes of Saudi Arabia, it isn’t applicable in Irish Academia. Lecturers and senior lecturers have the same duties in most departments and there is gender parity in those ranks. Being a professor doesn’t give you a special privilege to make discoveries and advance science.

  7. Overall, I think it’s a good idea to have some women-only professorships to kick-start the process, while making plans over the longer term to deal with the promotion problems. Having more senior women around would help change expectations. Making it time-limited (while maintaining incentives for improving gender balance) would encourage fixing the fundamental issues.

  8. […] blogged about this scheme here when it was announced, a little over a year ago. The appointments are to be in areas where there is […]

  9. […] positions under the Strategic Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI). I blogged about this scheme here. Among the positions just announced is a new Chair in Observational Astrophysics or Cosmology at […]

  10. […] positions under the Strategic Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI). I blogged about this scheme here. The position we have been awarded is a Chair (Full Professorship) in Observational Astrophysics or […]

  11. […] or Cosmology under the Strategic Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI). I blogged about this scheme here and announced this Chair position originally […]

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