Gender inequality a serious concern at universities - Growing calls for policies to give women a fair chance at professorship
Women comprise less than a third of the total number of professors among four of Jamaica’s top universities and colleges, a situation labelled ‘unacceptable’ by the leaders of the institutions who admit that structural patriarchy continues to dominate the education establishment.
Professorship is the highest academic rank at tertiary institutions and is an indicator of a very distinguished body of scholarly work.
At The University of the West Indies (UWI), the premier institution in the region, only 45 of the 164 professors are women.
The University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) has 11 top ranking academics with just four women numbered among that lot; while at the Northern Caribbean University, three of the eight professors are women.
Established in 1836, in the throes of Emancipation, The Mico College, now The Mico University College, a teacher-training institution, does not have government-approved professorship posts.
Two staffers – one man and one woman – there were conferred with the title elsewhere.
Of all the institutions under review, only The UWI has a gender policy, with the UTech and Mico, after being pressed on the issue by The Sunday Gleaner, admitting that the time has come for a clear policy approach to institutionally support their women scholars.
At all four institutions, women significantly outnumber men in every other staff category, yet never rising to become leaders at the institutions.
At Mico, 80 per cent of the 119 persons on the academic staff cohort are women and, when broken down even further, of the 23 senior lecturers – the level before professorship – 21 are women.
The UWI employs approximately 7,500 persons, of which 4,425 are women, while at the Mandeville-based Northern Caribbean University (NCU), of the 114 academic staff, 67 are women.
Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of employees at UTech are women, who also dominate the academic subgroup where they number 305 out of 511.
In terms of senior lecturers, the Papine-based institution has 55, of which 33 are women.
The second-tier leadership at the institutions is not very diverse, except for the UTech where there are equal numbers of assistant vice-presidents – two men and two women. For NCU, the corps of four vice-presidents includes one woman.
Mico’s two vice-presidents are men.
Outside of Princess Alice, who presided at the start of The UWI, the institution has never had a woman chancellor, the ceremonial head of the university, and neither has it had a woman vice chancellor, the executive head.
Details on age when appointments took effect and salaries to determine the gender pay gap were not immediately available.
The situation across some of the island’s top-tier places of learning could arguably be representative of wider challenges afflicting the society and the Caribbean region, where, despite strong labour force participation among women, they remain trapped in low to middle tiers of management.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” admitted Professor Opal Palmer Adisa, UWI director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, who said there is need for strategic examination of the requirements to become professor and the support systems in place to empower women.
The criteria for promotion to professor at The UWI, and similar to other institutions, include, among other things, having “a record of distinguished original work” and achieving “outstanding success in and wide recognition of professional activities”.
“We might want to disaggregate data to look at other women professors – Do they have children? How many children do they have?” explained Adisa, who linked the pressure on women to meet the criteria with unequal division of labour and the traditional gender roles that reduce women’s time for non-house work, matched with heavy course loads that further gobble up time for research.
“At my previous institution, that is one of the things that many of the women brought up – that their ascensions in the academic field were severely delayed if they chose to have children … these are real barriers for women,” disclosed the professor who chairs UWI’s gender policy programme that was launched in 2018.
That view was backed up by a UWI lecturer who made it clear that she was interested in becoming a professor but does not feel she is being adequately supported.
“I’m not married and I don’t have children,” said the scientist who wished not to be named.
“Yet, I know it will be difficult for me to become a professor. Why? Where is the mentorship? And if the university recognises that it has so few women at the top, what is being done about it? Don’t forget the unwritten rules that target women, especially those who speak out.”
Adisa admitted that even with a gender policy geared at ensuring equity, change has been slow in coming.
“A large percentage of our faculty are women, certainly the majority of our students are women, in the top administration, just like in the professorship, that is still very much the purview of males,” she said.
On the fact that The UWI has never had a woman head, Adisa was clear that “We must correct this. We have to understand that it’s not an accident. It’s a systematically patriarchal platform and the old boys club is at work.”
“I’m not for just putting women in positions of leadership just because she’s a woman. That makes no sense. I am talking about and I know there are colleagues (women), who, for whatever reasons, are very competent, and should be professors and are not,” she stated.
The professor said one of her proposals is that, at campuses that have a male principal, the deputy should be woman, a “very simple strategy to create balance in the hierarchy”.
UNIVERSITY EDUCATION INTENDED FOR MEN
The socio-cultural and political context for the emergence of universities cannot be ignored in pushing for fundamental changes, noted Nadeen Spence, a student services administrator and doctoral candidate at The UWI.
“It’s not a problem that UWI created. University education was originally intended for men and the history of the university is the history of male education,” argued Spence, who is studying women in student leadership at The UWI, the top ranking institution in the region that caters to more than 50,000 students.
Affordable daycare centres, ensuring women are placed on research teams where appropriate, building in equality in grant funding processes and disbursements are among the things Spence said need to be done to improve women’s chances of meeting the professorship criteria in higher education.
The impact of caregiving on women’s time to do research has been amplified by the coronavirus pandemic, which studies have found resulted in reduced research output from women who are faced with doing more housework while in lockdown.
Professor Rosalea Hamilton was the first woman professor at UTech, appointed in 2008.
“I thought it was an important step,” said Hamilton, an expert in micro and small business development, who retired in 2018.
“Unfortunately, during my tenure, for 10 years, I didn’t see the emergence of another chair. We tried, I know. We had one funding chair with the United Nations but it was not the kind of corporate-supported chair that led to a body of work that had an impact on the society,” she said.
“Yes, there’s lot more work that needs to be done,” Hamilton added, noting the streamlining of the criteria to allow for the appointment of associate and full professor at the institution.
GENDER POLICIES NEEDED
Professor Colin Gyles, UTech’s acting president, also noted the progress in more women being appointed to senior academic posts but acknowledges that there is a “cause for concern” in the “significant skewing of gender representation”.
It is important, he said, that women be represented and given a fair chance to reach all levels of decision-making.
Gyles said gender policies are important means of addressing imbalances, and it may be time for his institution to consider one.
“The idea of having a gender policy is a reasonable step that institutions should consider taking, especially where there are significant imbalances and even in an institution such as UTech, Jamaica, where we do not have a significant imbalance,” he said.
Added Gyles: “We are certainly not opposed to having a gender policy and it is something that we should wish to look at”.
At Mico, where the numbers are heavily skewed towards women in almost all categories of employment, president, Dr Asburn Pinnock, said the ‘feminisation’ of the profession explains the situation.
“Most senior lecturers at the college levels started out as classroom teachers and, if you look at the number of persons graduating from college, you have more females,” he said.
“Teaching is feminised. Because of the low salaries, men tend to shy away from it and they tend to move to more lucrative professions,” Pinnock added, pointing to an intervention called the Pre-University Men’s Programme aimed at increasing male enrolment.
International Women’s Day 2021 will be celebrated on March 8, under the theme #ChooseToChallenge.