Academia still a man's world

Female faculty progress slow at UWO

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Women account for 11 per cent of Western’s full-rank professors, 31 per cent of associate professors, 36 per cent of assistant professors and 56 per cent of instructors.

In terms of status, women make up 22 per cent of tenured professors, 35 per cent of probationary and 46 per cent of limited-term faculty.

Rebecca Coulter, associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Western, attributed the pooling of female professors at the assistant professor level and tenure-track status to low funding from the provincial and federal governments.

Alan Weedon, Western’s vice-provost academic planning, policy and faculty, said Western is committed to employment equity since it’s a signatory to the Federal Contractors Program, which commits Western to ensuring good representation of all designated groups. Western’s Equity Office monitors Western’s compliance.

Western has worked with the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association to place equity language in its collective agreement and ensures faculties are attentive to employment equity.

A UWOFA bulletin from 2006 shows Western has proportionally fewer female full-time faculty than other Canadian universities.

In the age group of 45 and over, where top rank is usually achieved, 19 per cent of female faculty at Western are full professors compared to 31 per cent at other universities.

In its budget, Western has included provisions encouraging the hiring of women; if faculties hire a woman, they receive a budget adjustment equal to half the individual’s first-year salary.

“We have had this policy for three years and it has made a difference,” Weedon says. “For 10 years Western was hiring 30 per cent women, but for the last three years it has risen to 45 per cent.”

New faculty members work six years before they’re evaluated for tenure; however, data indicates men pursue tenure earlier.

Weedon said there is a shortage of female professors in comparison to positions, which means more women are hired directly after they complete their PhD.

In terms of pay, evidence suggests female professors at Western are disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts.

Western has pay floors, which are minimum salaries for particular ranks. Professors move up the pay scale based on seniority and performance evaluations determine merit pay.

A wage equity study conducted in 2005 found “a woman earns, on average, $2,162.31 less than a man who is employed at the same rank in the same faculty and who has the same number of years since highest degree, years since first degree, years at Western, years at current rank, departmental average salary.”

At the moment UWOFA and Western administration are unsure why there is a salary gap. Clark and Coulter believe it’s because women’s starting salaries are lower than men’s.

Western offers market adjustments for salaries in traditionally male-dominated disciplines, like economics or sciences. Clark says market adjustments are offered either when a professor has another job offer in hand or in areas where pay in the private sector may be higher.

“For certain kinds of work, like engineering, market adjustments are used to attract and keep people in academia,” Clark says.

Female professors might be drawn to universities with more family-friendly policies or leaving academia altogether, Clark adds.

“Western has made some efforts to remove barriers, but it’s not at the top of list of priorities. We have child-care centres and those kind of things and better maternity leave policies because of the union, but when all is said and done...[there is] still annoyance when a woman takes maternity leave.”

Weedon says Western doesn’t experience a high turnover rate. However, he acknowledged female professors are leaving in slightly higher numbers.

“[Western] needs to take the matter of hiring women seriously,” Coulter says. “Implement the policies in place and think through ways to make Western more attractive for women to work.”

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