Today (Tuesday 8th March) is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “pledge for parity” where people of influence make a public statement that they will be a champion for gender diversity within their own organisation and the wider world. Some big names in business have signed up and it is apparent that there will be more to come, but with gender parity being a depressing 117 years away, the question might well be what movement do we see now that will make a difference to our contemporary lives and livelihoods.
It would be a stretch to say that progress in my own sector (Higher Education) has been remarkable. But there has been progress nonetheless. The recently published “Women Count, Leaders in Higher Education 2016” report demonstrates that the number of women in senior positions has increased, but considering the sector’s apparent enthusiasm for gender parity, the change isn’t significant. Even more sobering is the extent to which STEM subjects remain a male-dominated zone as women’s careers progress slowly or girls opt not to study the subjects in the first place.
However, it would be duplicitous to think that it is all doom and gloom. Within Higher Education there has long been recognition of the fact that gender parity is important and Institutions have been proactive in undertaking introspection which helps us understand why female progression is as it is. There are also a plethora of activities that are having an impact upon women’s advancement; Athena Swann, target setting on Scottish Governing Bodies, the prevalence of gender issues in HEFCE’s 2015-2020 plan and persistent, vociferous campaigning from Vice Chancellors (of whom a fifth are women) and their senior teams.
Naturally I hope that there will be many pledges for parity within Higher Education on the 8th March, but in a way I don’t think we need to. Yes there is a long way to go before there is appropriate female representation throughout academia; but we know this and we are not complacent about how difficult the journey to get there is, nor are we disheartened by this fact. So yes, let’s pledge for parity but let’s also be proud that we already know how important the issue is.
Elizabeth James is a Principal Consultant in the Education Practice