Anecdotal evidence led me to suspect gender bias in hiring practice at a Scottish university – and I wondered if that was:
- a suspicion supported by statistical evidence
- a finding generalisable to other Scottish universities
Let me immediately say that I wasn’t great at Maths in School and I’m honest with my doctoral and master’s students that stats isn’t my strong point – but I did do the required Ph.D. courses in both qualitative and quantitative data analysis and (to my surprise) I really enjoyed both.
Remembering my lecturer’s admonition to “keep a moral distance from the data”, I determined to stick to what seemed to be a fair methodology first, before peeking at the results. In other words, I wanted to avoid the kind of cherry-picking that goes on with article after article bangs on about fewer women than men in (some) Science Technology Engineering Maths courses and totally ignores Education or Nursing (and just about everything else) where they dominate.
So I decided to use 1 website only: www.jobs.ac.uk and only to focus on Scotland’s 2 Russell Group universities: Edinburgh & Glasgow, simply as a convenient and fair way to work with a smaller number. Incidentally missing out my alma mater. Furthermore (a favourite word for international students) I would limit the results by only analysing data from academic jobs advertised as “Lecturer” (not “Tutor”, “Professor”, “Chair”, “Head”, “Associate”, “Reader”, “Technician”, etc.) and only those on the website on 8th August 2022. If I found over 30 of these, for each university, I would exclude all adverts dated before 1st August 2022.
So much for search criteria. What about evidence? What’s my definition of sexism in this situation? Simple: I would note all adverts in this selection which included a phrase identical or similar to “women/ men/ female candidates/ male candidates are especially encouraged to apply” and cross-reference that to the ratio of male/ female academic staff in the department – as shown by the official website of that university on 8th August 2022.
(If you suspect me of manically doing this every day until I got the desired result, try it for yourself!)
First I put “Lecturer” in the Search field and “Edinburgh, UK” in Location and limited results to “within 10 miles”. 27 jobs were returned, 7 of them at institutions other than the University of Edinburgh. I entered the dates and job titles of the other 20:
|Date posted||University of Edinburgh|
|2nd Aug||Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Accounting|
|2nd Aug||Lecturer in Romanticism|
|27th July||Lecturer in Dyslexia|
|28th July||Lecturer in Epidemiology|
|27th July||Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Sign Language Linguistics|
|25th July||Lecturer in Environmental History|
|25th July||Lecturer in Environmental History|
|13th July||Lecturer in Landscape and Wellbeing|
|26th July||Lecturer in Graphic Design|
|18th July||Lecturer in Clinical Psychology|
|19th July||Lecturer in Clinical Psychology|
|15th July||Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Small Animal Dentistry and Maxillofacial Surgery|
|14th July||Senior Lecturer in Neurology/Neurosurgery|
|25th July||Lecturer in Financial Law and Regulation|
|20th July||Lecturer in South Asian Art History|
|27th July||Lecturer in Soft Robotics / Physical Computing|
|12th July||Lecturer in Interior, Architectural and Spatial Design|
|26th July||Lecturer in Small Animal Surgery (Orthopaedics and Soft Tissue, with Orthopaedic bias)|
|25th July||Teaching Fellow in Iron Age and Theoretical Archaeology*|
|27th July||Lectureship/Readership in Technology Enhanced Mathematics Education|
*”Lecturer” in job description
Of these, only 3 had any mention that could be construed as encouraging a particular gender to apply:
|Date posted||University of Edinburgh||Gender encouraged to apply|
|25th July||Lecturer in Environmental History||As an equal opportunities employer, we welcome applicants from all sections of the community, regardless of age, gender, race and ethnicity, disability, nationality and citizenship status, religion, sexual orientation or transgender status. Our School is committed to Athena SWAN principles. All appointments will be made on merit.|
|25th July||Lecturer in Financial Law and Regulation||The School of Law strives to be a diverse and inclusive community. We particularly welcome applications from candidates belonging to groups that have been traditionally under-represented in the subject.|
|12th July||Lecturer in Interior, Architectural and Spatial Design||The University of Edinburgh holds a Silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of our commitment to advance gender equality in higher education.|
“Athena SWAN” refers to the Scientific Women’s Academic Network.
The same search, but with “Glasgow, UK” in Location, yielded 29 results. Of these, 10 were excluded as relating to institutions other than the University of Glasgow. I entered the dates and job titles of the other 19 – all of which contained wording that could be construed as encouraging a particular sex to apply:
|Date posted||University of Glasgow||Gender encouraged to apply|
|5th Aug||Lecturer – School of Computing Science||We strongly endorse the principles of Athena SWAN, including a supportive and flexible working environment, with commitment from all levels of the organisation in promoting gender equity.*|
|26th July||Lecturer/Senior Lecturer/Reader in Statistics and Data Analytics||We offer an inclusive environment that particularly encourages applications from those within under-represented groups in our discipline […] (ATHENA SWAN)|
|25th July||Senior Lecturer/Lecturer in Marketing (Research & Teaching Track)||The Adam Smith Business School is triple accredited and is a research-informed and professionally-focused business school. The School has achieved the Athena SWAN Bronze award and actively encourages an inclusive culture promoting gender equality and welcomes applications from underrepresented groups. (ATHENA SWAN)|
|13th July||Lecturer in Race and Education||(ATHENA SWAN)|
|13th July||Lecturer in Curriculum and Assessment||(ATHENA SWAN)|
|27th July||Senior Lecturer/Lecturer in Human Resource Management (Research & Teaching Track)||The Adam Smith Business School is triple accredited and is a research-informed and professionally-focused business school. The School has achieved the Athena SWAN Bronze award and actively encourages an inclusive culture promoting gender equality and welcomes applications from underrepresented groups. (ATHENA SWAN)|
|5th Aug||Lecturer (LTS) in Medieval History||(ATHENA SWAN)|
|5th Aug||Lecturer (LTS) in Medieval History||(ATHENA SWAN)|
|29th July||Lecturer (Research & Teaching Track)||(ATHENA SWAN)|
|29th July||Lecturer in Early Medieval History||(ATHENA SWAN)|
|22nd July||Lecturer in Music [LTS Track]||We also strongly endorse the principles of Athena SWAN, including a supportive and flexible working environment, with commitment from all levels of the organisation to promoting [inclusion, diversity and] gender equity. Applications are particularly welcome from women, ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups.|
|27th July||Lecturer (Learning, Teaching & Scholarship)||(ATHENA SWAN)|
|2nd Aug||Lecturer in International Relations (LTS Track)||We value diversity and especially encourage applications from women, disabled and ethnic minority candidates. (ATHENA SWAN)|
|26th July||Lecturer (Small Animal Hospital Rotations)||(ATHENA SWAN)|
|8th July||Lecturer in Contemporary Economic History (LTS)||We value diversity and especially encourage applications from women, disabled and ethnic minority candidates. (ATHENA SWAN)|
|2nd Aug||Multiple Lecturer Positions in Statistics & Data Analytics||We offer an inclusive environment that particularly encourages applications from those within under-represented groups in our discipline […] (ATHENA SWAN)** (ATHENA SWAN)|
|2nd Aug||Lecturer (LTS Track) in Screen Production & Practice||We also strongly endorse the principles of Athena SWAN, including a supportive and flexible working environment, with commitment from all levels of the organisation to promoting [inclusion, diversity and] gender equity. Applications are particularly welcome from women, ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups.|
|13th July||Lecturer in Teacher Education (Primary with specialism focus in Technologies||(ATHENA SWAN)|
The ambiguity about the effect of Athena SWAN charter, articulated HERE by Dr Suzanne Madgwick, Research Fellow at Newcastle University, is felt even by those whom it benefits:
Yes, there is evidence to suggest that women are sometimes a little more risk averse, less likely to put themselves forward for promotion, but this is by no means exclusive. If we have a mechanism in place to champion and support the different needs of all people, each and every time they need it, is this not equality without the need to keep using the word “women”? I can’t help thinking that there is a good dose of hypocrisy in all the ‘positive actions’ and events which are seen to be just for women. In the short term it’s generating friction and in the long term it certainly doesn’t seem like the best strategy when preaching fair play.Not Athena SWAN again! The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (2015)
Perhaps because of this perception, the Charter is now not supposed to have women as its only focus:
The Athena Swan Charter is a framework which is used across the globe to support and transform gender equality within higher education (HE) and research. Established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment, the Charter is now being used across the globe to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.Athena Swan Charter (2020)
Given that supposed change, let’s ignore for now all the (slightly) ambiguous encouragement of women to apply for academic jobs in Russel Group universities in Scotland (3/20 or 15% in the University of Edinburgh selection of job adverts and 19/19 or 100% in those of the University of Glasgow) and focus only on the 4, all from the University of Glasgow, out of the 39 selections from both institutions (just over 10%) that explicitly do this:
|Date posted||University of Glasgow||Gender encouraged to apply|
|22nd July||Lecturer in Music [LTS Track]||Applications are particularly welcome from women, ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups.|
|2nd Aug||Lecturer in International Relations (LTS Track)||We value diversity and especially encourage applications from women, disabled and ethnic minority candidates.|
|8th July||Lecturer in Contemporary Economic History (LTS)||We value diversity and especially encourage applications from women, disabled and ethnic minority candidates.|
|2nd Aug||Lecturer (LTS Track) in Screen Production & Practice||Applications are particularly welcome from women, ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups.|
Let’s look at the ratio of male/ female academic staff in the relevant department. The first has this information:
For further information on the College of Arts, School of Culture and Creative Arts please visit https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/cca/
With a link to “Music” and “Staff A-Z” where there are 14 names under Research and Teaching (the other category is Professional, Administrative and Support). Of the 4 Professors, 3 names are male and 1 female; of the 10 Doctors, 8 are male and 2 female. So with a M:F ratio of 11:3 (just over 21% are female) there is justification to describe women as under-represented in this department.
The second advert has this:
For further information on the College of Social Sciences, School of Social & Political Sciences, please visit https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/socialpolitical/
With a link to “Politics and International Relations” and “Staff A-Z” where there are 60 names under Research and Teaching. Of the 11 Professors, 5 names I recognised as male and 4 female with 2 I couldn’t identify by name but with female photographs (on this website or another linking her to this position). So that’s 5 male and 6 female professors. Of the 45 Doctors, 30 I recognised as male, with 2 I couldn’t identify by name but with male photographs (on this website or another linking him to this position). So that’s 32 male and 13 female doctors. Of the other 4 staff in this category, 1 is Mr, 2 Ms and 1 Miss. So that’s 1 male and 3 female staff members without academic titles. Overall, that makes 38 male and 22 female staff so, as 22/60 (just under 37%) are female, there is justification to describe women as under-represented in this department.
The third advert has the same link as the second but the link to follow this time is Economic and Social History. There isn’t a link to staff so I had to go back and search for this subject and ended up on the departmental staff page:
There are 23 staff names listed under Research and Teaching. Of the 6 Professors, all have male names. Out of the 14 Doctors, I recognised 6 as male and another 1 was identified as male on another website linking him to this position. So that’s 7 male and 7 female doctors out of 14. Other staff are 2 Misters and 1 Miss. Overall that’s 15 male and 8 female staff under this category, which makes 8/23 (just under 35%) female staff in this department – therefore it is justified to describe women as under-represented here.
The last advert has the same link as the first but the link to follow then, this time, isn’t clear as the job refers to the College rather than a specific Department. However the contact person is listed as Theatre, Film and Television Studies – which comprises two different links:
Clicking on Our Staff in the first department, I see 5 Professors, out of which 2 have male names and 3 female. Out of the 7 Doctors, it’s 4 male and 3 female, and there’s no-one else so overall that’s 6/12 female staff which is 50%. Women are not under-represented here.
In the second department, out of the 6 Professors, 3 are male and 3 female; out of the 11 Doctors, 5 appear to be male (by names of photographs on the website) and 6 female. Overall that’s 9/17 (just under 53%) female staff in this category. So women are not under-represented here either.
Lumping these two creative departments together, as the job advert does, that’s 6+8=14 male; 6+9=15 female, so that’s 15/29 (just under 52%) female staff.
As a final computation of all 4 jobs that explicitly mention women being encouraged to apply, the academic staff ratios for these University for Glasgow Departments are:
|Music||11||3||14||just over 21%|
|Politics & Int. Rels||38||22||60||just under 37%|
|Econ. & Soc. Hist.||15||8||23||just under 35%|
|Theatre, Film & TV||14||15||29||just under 52%|
One possible finding of this hasty survey is that out of 39 selections of academic job adverts only 1 of them could be said to show explicit sexism (under my stated criteria) by encouraging the numerically – and academically – dominant gender to apply for a position. That must be qualified by the fact that the dominance is only 2% and, if it’s a woman who’s creating the vacancy, then another woman would simply keep the status quo.
Another possible finding is that 4 out of the 39 adverts explicitly encourage women to apply, and 22/ 39 (just over 56%) if we include the implicit encouragement, remembering that most of those are from one institution.
As I only looked at the explicit adverts’ staff ratios, it’s not clear whether the overall figure of around 56% (or 100% for the University of Glasgow) female-specific encouragement is justified. Just as a random outlier, let’s look at a department that we may expect to be female dominated (but maybe not as much as English Lit. or Nursing) – Education:
Applying the same criteria, we have 26 Professors, 12 are male and 14 female; of the 74 Doctors, 23 are male and 51 female; of the other academic staff there are 16 Misters, 13 Ms, 9 Mrs, 3 Miss, 1 Fr, so 17 male and 25 female. Overall that makes 52 male and 90 female academic staff members. That makes 90/142 = just over 63% female.
There are 3 jobs currently being advertised for the School of Education of the University of Glasgow. All of them have the same Athena SWAN script. Not one of them, in this clearly female-dominated Department, encourages men to apply.
Looking back at the two points I began with, I haven’t provided any statistical evidence for gender bias in hiring practice at Scottish universities – but I have done (to a limited extent) for such bias in advertising academic jobs. I haven’t checked if all 19 degree providers in Scotland have endorsed this formerly gender-specific Charter but I strongly suspect that they have.
As a man, I rejoice in the equality of my female colleagues but – if we are to truly move past institutionalised sexism – we have to realise that simply swapping the slogan “jobs for the boys” for “jobs for the girls” isn’t going to change the dynamic of dominance rather than co-operation. With masculinity conveniently demonised as toxic (forever forgetting the wisdom of feminists such as Dorothy Dinnerstein) and confused wee boys being explicitly told that they can avoid becoming a man, then it’s time to take stock of the current situation.
Despite media portrayals, we’re not all mad, bad or sad. If we really believe in ending “the war of the sexes” then we have to be honest about recruitment.
Thanks to Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan for releasing his image Exhausted Employee into the Public Domain.