Universities focus on ‘fixing the women’ rather than system to improve gender balance in academia

Managers believe women primarily responsible for gender imbalance in higher education

University managers believe women themselves are primarily responsible for the gender imbalance in higher education, according to research published today. University of Limerick sociology professor Pat O'Connor said she surveyed 34 senior managers in universities here and found the majority believed women were the source of this "problem" and the focus must be on "fixing the women" rather than the system.

“As they [the university managers] saw it, women lacked career ambition, they were poor at marketing themselves, they lacked political skills and had lifestyles that were unhelpful.” She said the officials believed they were not responsible for changing their organisations for the better.

The research findings are contained in the sociologist's book Management and Gender in Irish Education , which is being launched this evening in the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), Dublin.

Higher Education Authority chief executive Tom Boland, who is due to attend the launch, said Prof O'Connor's findings challenged those involved in the management of higher education "to put in place strategies, targets and key performance indicators" to ensure universities enjoyed the benefits of gender diversity.


The HEA is in the process of finalising “compacts” between the authority and higher education institutions, setting out academic, research and teaching objectives

. Prof O’Connor said there was an opportunity to include gender staffing targets in such compacts. She has also urged the HEA to improve the collection of data on gender inequality.

In her study, Prof O’Connor said that academic managers who had worked in the Irish university system only were most likely to see women as “the problem”. However, men who had worked in the private sector or in other higher educational systems were most likely to focus on “fixing the organisation”.

“Diversity in management has been shown to increase economic growth and research innovation,” she said. “Women make up more than half of the university students; and half of the academic staff at lower levels, but a glass ceiling persists. Women make up only one-fifth of those at the top of the academic and management hierarchies.”

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column