What's academia doing about its problem with gender equality?

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Despite the efforts made to close the gender gap in pay, conditions and representation, we are still far from achieving gender equality (GE) and empowering all women.

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and many other international benchmarking indexes highlight the importance of the issue and annually measure global and country-based improvements. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, at the current rate it would take Western Europe 52.1 years to close the gender pay gap, 61.5 years in North America and more than 100 years for other regions of the world.

So clearly gender inequality is still an issue facing all sectors across the globe, but is particularly notable in academia. Women are under-representing in all disciplines and all levels of academia, especially in the most senior positions. The main factors influencing this inequality change according to the cultural, political, legal and institutional context within which the higher education institution operates. Academic sources and policy reports identify multi-level, multi-dimensional, multi-cultural and multi-contextual factors that can either create barriers to GE in academia or help to enable it.

Started in 2020, the EU-funded project, Transparent and Resilient Gender Equality Through Integrated Monitoring Planning and Implementation, is hoping to tackle these issues head on. The project aims to close the gender gap in six participating Business and Management Schools – from Athens to London – by developing, implementing and monitoring tailored Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) that aim to drive a more inclusive and transparent academic culture.

The project provides a comprehensive list of key areas that need to be addressed to achieve GE: from policies, structure and gender equality data to leadership, human resources practices and intersectionality. Together, they form a roadmap for each School to customise their own GEPs. The hope is that they will eventually improve GE among their academics and researchers, increase the number of female academics in decision-making bodies and encourage more gender consideration when it comes to future research and innovation.

Another important initiative is the well-established Athena Swan Charter, which provides a structured and inclusive framework for advancing GE in higher education and research and is used in academic institutions around the world. The framework offers ten progressive guiding principles that institutions need to commit to including in their policies, practice, action plans and culture – all of which aim to advance women’s academic careers and the wider equality, diversity and inclusivity agenda within higher education.

Interestingly, recent research has underlined the critical impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on GE in higher education and how it affected the productivity and outputs of many female academics. According to recent data from the UK, USA and Germany, women spent more time than men doing unpaid domestic work and childcare responsibilities during the pandemic. It’s another example of how larger, societal issues impact on GE. It also demonstrates the intersectionality of GE with other global challenges, such as poverty, lack of education and decent employment, and shows GE in academia and the wider workplace is an important and critical connection for achieving the United Nations’ other Global Goals.

By Nur Gundogdu, Research Fellow, Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business

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