Gender data reinforces need for research culture changes

Research and academic staff culture needs to be radically improved around the world if women are to reach anywhere near equality with their male colleagues, particularly when it comes to top jobs in research-intensive and technical universities, according to an analysis of over 1,000 higher education institutions from more than 80 countries.

The study into gender disparities in higher education is the second produced by U-Multirank, which offers an alternative way to measure higher education performance to traditional university league tables.

Its Gender Monitor 2022 report highlights the continuing gender imbalance in academic careers the higher up the ladder staff climb, and says that while 47% of PhD students are female and women make up 44% of academic staff, just 29% become professors.

As for the top job, only 20% of all institutions had a female rector or vice-president in 2021-22, according to U-Multirank data.

No surprise

The results come as no surprise to those, like Dr Karen Stroobants, who are trying to change academic research culture.

Stroobants combines her role as a policy adviser on research landscape and economy for the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom with acting as an independent consultant on research policy and strategy.

Most recently, Stroobants contributed to drafting the European agreement on research assessment reform with the European Commission, Science Europe and the European University Association, about which University World Newsreported last week.

Stroobants, a champion of greater gender balance in academia and board member of the grassroots EuroScience organisation, told University World News she is regularly approached “by PhDs and post-docs” about moving away from academia – by men as well as women – who blame the negative research environment.

“What is notable from these conversations, especially when speaking with women, is the frustration expressed around the passion for the research in combination with the disappointment towards the environment [in which] they find themselves, [which] they describe as egocentric, unsupportive, sometimes toxic.

“Very often, the latter is the deciding factor in the decision to leave. Many feel that to succeed they need to adapt to a culture that goes against their values, as success is defined around the individual rather than the collective endeavour.

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