Glass ceiling and higher education


Sir, – The proposal of the Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor to develop women-only professor posts in Irish universities is ill conceived, condescending and patronising.

We should strive in every way to ensure women have equal opportunities in education, training and career advancement; however, that does not equate to artificially manipulating the system to ensure we have equal outcomes.

There are no laws on our statue books, nor decrees in our universities’ charters, that inhibit a woman’s chance to succeed. In fact, the opposite is the case.

If women in Ireland, as they do, have equal opportunities, then it is incumbent upon us, as a society, to strive to understand why this is not translated into equal outcomes. It is likely the explanation is complex, and multifactorial.

What is pernicious about this proposal, why it has a real chance of doing harm rather than good, is the implicit message within it, that no matter how talented, intelligent, hard working or ambitious a woman is, she will fail if competing with a man, even if she is superior.

When I look at my three daughters, and see the boundless potential they have, I know they will succeed in whatever they put their minds to.

I wish the Minister shared my confidence in them. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The Minister of State for Higher Education is planning to introduce female only positions in universities and third-level colleges. This seems to completely ignore the Employment Equality Acts of 1998-2004. This legislation prohibits discrimination on nine different grounds, including gender. This Minister is suggesting discriminating against 50 per cent of the population in order to achieve some equality in the numbers at senior positions in the universities and colleges. However, she fails to grasp the basic concept that discrimination is wrong and can never be justified.

If Ms Mitchell O’Connor wants to seriously address this problem, I suggest that she looks at the barriers that discourage women from applying for high-level jobs across all of Irish society. These include the failure by Government to address the need for decent child care facilities at affordable prices and the fact that women continue to carry a disproportionate level of responsibility for looking after both the next generation and the older generation. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 5.

Sir, – I have recently been shocked to learn of the lack of diversity in Irish academia. This is reflected in the composition of whole institutions – from senior management down to the student population. It creates groupthink, conformity of thought, and an ivory-tower mentality. I am of course referring to the lack of academics from a working-class background. In view of the relevant minister’s recent proposals to promote other kinds of inclusivity in Irish academia (“Funds for women-only professorships aim to end gender inequality”, News, November 12th), I look forward to the creation of new professorial roles ring-fenced for scholars from a working-class background. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.