Third level institutions face losing some of their funding if they do not take steps to correct their gender balance.
A new task force has been set up by the Higher Education Minister, which has until March to make its first recommendations.
It follows a Higher Education Authority report which confirms we have a persistent problem with a lack of women in top academic positions.
Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor says it is discrimination, and she is determined to end it.
She said: "The message to the higher education institutes is that there is no where to hide and that gender inequality which is alive and well in our education institutes, will be eradicated."
The Irish Federation of University Teachers has welcomed the move.
General Secretary Joan Donegan says there has been a slight increase in the number of female professorships of late.
She said: "We have seen the average move from 19% to 21%, I know that is very small but within 2014 to now to see even that movement is very good.
"Of course we want to see much bigger movement and we are hoping that with the intervention of the Minister that she will make sure it will happen."