Sir, – In examining the new female-only professorships scheme, Muireann Lynch and Selina McCoy argue that we would be better off tackling gender inequality by changing the Stem (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) stereotypes that shape education and career choices from childhood (“Will female-only professorships make the difference?”, Opinion & Analysis, July 15th).
There are many programmes aimed at fostering interest in Stem among young students, often with targets for increasing the participation of girls. However, there is also a growing concern expressed by female scientists about the ethics of encouraging female students into a career where they will face discrimination and be held back by bias from achieving their potential.
Specific attitudes held by parents, teachers and thus children about the suitability of girls for Stem subjects are simply a specific manifestation of the broader unconscious bias held by society that affects all women. This unconscious bias supports the presumption that men are more able and holds men to a lower standard. This is the reason that women are missing from the professoriate.
Increasing the number of female professors from 116 to 161 (compared to 400 male professors), in subject areas with few female professors, will change the dynamic in those departments and in our understanding of women as research leaders. The dramatic nature of the intervention has focused attention on how much effort is needed for universities to see real change.
Ultimately we will achieve gender equality when unconscious bias no longer limits women’s achievements. Girls and boys will choose careers in line with their interests and aptitudes, and go on to succeed based on their merits.
For now, Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor’s scheme is a bold move with high impact. – Yours, etc,
Dr RACHEL HILLIARD,