In a bid to address the gender imbalance at a senior level across third level education, twenty new professorships specifically for women are to be in place by this September.
Despite marginal improvements in recent years, women still make up just 24% of professors at Irish universities, and two thirds of senior lecturer positions at Institute of Technologies (IoTs) are held by men.
This is despite women making up more than half of lecturers at universities, and 45% in IoTs, the latest figures from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) show.
Recruitment will now begin for appointments at 12 third-level institutes for the gender-specific, professorial-level posts in areas like computer science, mathematics, biomedical engineering and climate science.
These positions include two professorships at University College Cork (UCC), one in Irish gender history and the other in microbiome and health science, and two professorships at the University of Limerick (UL), one in data science and the other in genomics.
Other posts include a chair of cyber security at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and a Professor of Older Adult Health at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
The positions come as part of the first phase of the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative, launched following the recommendations of the Gender Equality Taskforce.
In 2018, the taskforce found it would take more than 20 years for women to make up 40% of professors at the current rate of progress unless positive action measures were introduced.
This intervention will ensure a “swifter gender re-balance”, according to Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister for State for Higher Education.
We know that the excellence of our female academics and their vast contribution to research and education has not yet resulted in an appropriate level of representation of women at the highest levels.
“This initiative is supporting higher education institutions that are already taking proactive steps to address gender imbalance to take a leap forward in this area, always with ‘excellence’ at the heart of recruitment and promotion policies.
“I have no doubt that the Senior Academic Initiative will attract outstanding applicants from within the higher education sector in Ireland and internationally.”
Appointments will be subject to the same rigorous assessment processes usually adopted by each institution for posts at these levels, she added.
Almost 20 higher education institutions applied for funding for the gender-specific posts. In order to qualify, each institute had to show they have a gender action plan in place.
Each institute also had to show it was progressing its gender equality objectives and targets to achieve real cultural change.
The Attorney General has said the initiative complies with national and EU employment law, according to the Department of Education.
To be funded by the Department of Education, the additional cost for the professorial posts will be approximately €1.5m in 2020, increasing to almost €4 million in 2021.
Each of the posts has been approved by an expert international panel, chaired by Professor Lesley Yellowlees, CBE, Professor in Chemistry at Edinburgh University.
Another call for applications for gender-specific posts under the initiative will be announced later this year.