When I chat with people who work in a university setting about gender equity, the conversation usually turns to academic promotions. There’s a general belief that if more women put their hands up for a promotion, then representation will change and the issue of equity might be solved. While promotions are important, for many organisations it’s only part of the work that needs to be done.
To better understand gender equity, SAGE Athena Swan directed organisations to look at their employment data. Most universities saw that women have similar if not greater success rates than men in the promotion process. Following this, there was little attempt to consider application rates. And it appears that the institutions that did had difficulty representing the data they found, or had trouble interpreting it. Let’s unpack this.
Is getting to the promotion process itself a barrier for women?
The hypothesis is that women don’t apply until they are convinced they will be successful, when there is no chance of a failure. Men on the other hand will have more confidence to throw their hat in the ring early.
When considering promotions data with respect to gender, you must be able to ascertain how many women applied out of the total number of women eligible. When you compare this to the total number of men who applied relative to the pool you get a sense of whether application rates are a gendered issue in your organisation.
However, for the institutions that did produce data on true application rates, the hypothesis was quite often proven to be untrue. Or, it may be true for some disciplines and not others. Latrobe University demonstrated that women did take longer to go for promotion than men amongst its workforce, with women in STEMM spending twice the amount of time at level B (lecturer/research fellow) than their male colleagues. However, the University of Queensland saw the time spent at that level was not gendered in their institution (Figure 1).
The rich data collected at institution level for promotions isn’t always replicated at a faculty or school level, which may invest in training women about academic promotions or introducing mentoring to women at level B and C (senior lecturer/senior research fellow). These are not useless activities, but if you only focus here you may be missing the point.
What if your statistics show that an increase in women being promoted will not shift your gender representation at all because men are being recruited into the organisation at much higher rates, that women are leaving before they even go for a promotion, or, in fact, as many organisations saw, there’s no difference in application rates for men and women?
Too often we try to simplify gender equity. We might make broad statements like: women don’t go for promotion because they lack confidence or women don’t get promoted because of caring responsibilities. These statements could be true or false for your institution, your faculty or school – and not necessarily the same for all three. Organisational culture and leadership have significant impacts on employee behaviour and diversity, so it may make more sense to look there.
Gender equity work in any organisation needs to be data driven and targeted. That’s why SAGE Athena Swan exists in the first place and it can be a powerful tool for change. I believe organisations aren’t capitalising on the information provided by data or looking to see what has worked for others. There’s a lot of uncoordinated wasted effort continuing unabated.
If you’re a member of a faculty or school it’s important to look at the data. It’ll help you to identify the barriers in your area and the strategies and best practice initiatives to solve them. Or, if you need a hand, get in touch with Bree Gorman. We specialise in creating Diversity and Inclusion strategies and action plans that can create meaningful change in your institution.
06 September 2021
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