Call to overhaul procedures for third-level promotions

Measures to improve women’s representation at senior academic levels are pointless unless promotion procedures are transparent, says an activist who won a recent high-profile case.

Micheline Sheehy Skeffington was successful in her case against NUI Galway for gender discrimination after failing to be promoted in 2008 to senior lecturer grade. The Equality Tribunal decision last December said there was a ramshackle approach to the interview process.

Severe gender imbalances at senior levels across the universities have since been highlighted by Higher Education Authority figures, and all seven this month signed up to the international Athena Swan charter to promote female career progression.

But in University College Cork to address a meeting on higher-education gender equality, Ms Sheehy Skeffington said it is not just methodology that is critical to such initiatives.

“Whatever you put in place, if you promise something and it’s not transparent, you leave it wide open to abuse. And even if it isn’t abused, you can’t be convinced it isn’t being abused, so transparency is critical,” she said.

NUIG recently announced a task force on gender equality and the HEA is considering a review of policies and their implementation at all third-level colleges.

NUIG and Trinity College Dublin, where 14% of professors are women, were the worst universities in the HEA figures, followed by UCC (16%), with the best being 31% at University of Limerick.

This, suggested Irish Federation of University Teachers deputy general secretary Joan Donegan, is probably linked to the fact that UL is a much newer institution.

“I think the only way Athena Swan will work is if it’s connected to funding, that will be the driver. So that the gender criteria [must be] adhered to, and if it’s not, then funding for research or some other project is not given,” she said.

Asked last week by the Irish Examiner if funding-linked gender equality targets might be set for third-level colleges — which already now have funding-tied targets for mature and disabled student participation — Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan said she hoped that would not be necessary.


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