Cambridge is one of the most impressive talent communities on the planet. It has a vision to become “the world’s greatest small city” and looks set fair to achieve its mission: most recently becoming home to its 18th billion-dollar start up. It’s also home to one of the world’s foremost academic institutions of course – and this is undoubtedly one of the reasons why the Cambridge ‘Employer Brand’ shines so brightly. Far from being a bastion of privilege, Cambridge University is an international standard for excellence – and it’s now the base for a campaign group aiming to address the lack of women professors.
More than 50 senior staff members at Cambridge University have called for a rethink on recruitment to tackle gender inequality in academia. Currently, only 22 per cent of UK professors are female – suggesting that women face disadvantages throughout the hiring and promotions process.
The Cambridge group believes that changing how a candidate’s successes are assessed and valued will encourage a more inclusive approach and prevent bias against women. Campaigners maintain this would ensure that talented women have a better chance of progressing to senior positions in higher education.
The argument is that conventional success in academia – for example, a promotion from reader to professor – is often framed by outcomes such as the number of papers published in leading journals or the size and frequency of research grants. While these milestones are important, they are likely to benefit men more than women.
Campaigners say that recruitment should take a broader, more inclusive approach that valued other academic contributions such as teaching, administration and outreach work. Such a shift would make it easier for women to advance – and for universities to fulfil their potential as institutions that contribute positively to society.
Professor Dame Athene Donald, gender equality champion at the University of Cambridge, says: “Our experience at Cambridge, where we have recently surveyed 126 female academics and administrators on this subject, suggests that this is indeed the case. Women seem to value a broader spectrum of work-based competencies that do not flourish easily under the current system.
Speaking to People Management magazine, the Professor explained: “There will always be hardcore metrics for academics, such as grants, or prizes won, and books and papers published – and they are important. But there are opportunities to reward and embed different types of success, such as teaching, outreach and departmental support; activities that lots of very talented women, and indeed men, are involved with, but are not currently a meaningful part of recognition and advancement in universities.
“If universities inhibit the progression of talented female staff, they in turn are unable to reach their full potential. And we know that universities make a huge contribution to society through research, teaching and partnerships with businesses, among many other activities.”
Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that there are four male professors for every female professor in UK universities, despite women making up 45 per cent of the UK academic workforce.
‘Education’ is too important an influencer and role-model environment not to be representative in terms of gender balance – and it’s to be welcomed that a world-leading centre of progressive learning is spearheading the argument for a more inclusive talent agenda.