Female profs knock politely on glass ceiling

Women underrepresented and underpaid,especially in highest ranks of academia

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Men standing on the glass ceiling with women below

Fifty years after the modern women’s rights movement, female professors are still underrepresented and underpaid in the top ranks of academia at Canadian universities.

According to a 2005 Statistics Canada study, women hold 28 per cent of tenured positions, 40 per cent of tenure-track positions and 45 per cent of non-tenure-track positions.

In terms of rank, only 22 per cent of full-time professors are women. Women represent 34 per cent of associate professors, 41.3 per cent of assistant professors and 55 per cent of lecturers and instructors.

Promotion to full professor
Janice Drakich, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and director of Faculty Recruitment and Retention at the University of Windsor, said one reason there are fewer women at the top of academia is there are fewer women in that age cohort.

Statistics Canada says almost half of all male tenured faculty were 55 or older, compared to just over one-third of their female colleagues. Most tenured women were between 40 and 54 years old.

Drakich’s research shows discrimination against women in promotion to the rank of full professor.

Unlike the tenure process, in which all professors participate in their fifth year at a university, promotion to full professor involves an individual decision with no guidelines.

“[For promotion], external referees evaluate [the professor’s] work...it’s a rigorous process with professors coming under a lot of scrutiny,” says Kim Clark, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at Western and president of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association.

Accounting for differences in years of appointment, discipline and institution, female associate professors are less likely than male professors to be promoted to full professor, and when they are, women’s disadvantage is about one year in the median time to promotion.

Drakich says many women don’t apply for promotion due to a lack of self-confidence, but she emphasizes there is no one answer.

She added women’s research may not be in areas as highly valued as some men’s research, which may affect promotion.

Money for research tends to be concentrated in the masculine-oriented or commercial areas of research, like computer science. Professors are judged by the research dollars they bring in, Drakich says, and it’s hard for women to compete with multi-million dollar research grants.

“The environment for women in institutions of higher learning has not always been welcoming " people still talk about the ‘chilly climate,’” says Tracy Isaacs, associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Women’s Studies and Feminist Research at Western.

James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, says things are beginning to change, but he’s concerned with the percentage of female Canada Research Chairs " only 21 per cent. Canada Research Chairs were intended to redress inequity, but the majority of these prestigious grants have gone to men.

Double burden of academic work and family life
“If you look through undergraduate, graduate studies, assistant professor to associate professor, the number of women dwindles,” Clark says. “It takes a while for a woman to work her way up through the system, but that isn’t the whole explanation.”

Rebecca Coulter, associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Western, says the occupation of professor was constructed around males and doesn’t account for child rearing or the unequal balance between men and women in terms of housework.

“I had three children in a five-and-a-half-year period, which slows you down a bit [in your academic work], and if I hadn’t done that I might be at a point to apply for full professor,” Clark says.

Wage equity
Data compiled by the Canadian Association of University Teachers states female professors earn approximately 80 per cent of male earnings at the same status and period of work.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers speculates this imbalance is due to underrepresentation in the highest-paying rank of full professor and in faculties like engineering, applied science, business, law, and clinical medicine; the practice of market supplements in certain disciplines; and salary scales with numerous steps.

“Over time, a nominal difference in the starting salaries of two people beginning at the same time widens as the same percentage increase will be larger for the one earning the higher salary,” Isaacs says.

“We don’t know if there is anything in the process of [student] evaluations that discriminates against women,” Clark says.

“In the new collective agreement, information will be provided on how performance evaluation are distributed by gender to see if there is a gender bias.”

According to Drakich, universities are in the midst of an unprecedented hiring, which began in 2000 and continues until 2014, with numerous open positions related to retirement and growth.

Women account for roughly 35-39 per cent of new hires at Canadian universities. Drakich acknowledges there has been progress, but the proportions have been slow to change, adding it will be a long time before universities are 50-50.

Additionally, universities are hiring more limited-term or sessional instructors to ensure maximum flexibility, which means fewer tenure-track positions are being created.

Clark says women are being hired at a better proportion but says the problem is retention.

Drakich argues women’s applications aren’t treated the same as men’s.

“If you have primarily men on the appointments committee, there is a tendency for men to want to hire other men because they are more comfortable.”

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