Insidious sexism remains a barrier to gender equality in British universities – Conservative Article
British universities see a female majority of students at the undergraduate level. Despite this numerical advantage, power relations between men and women remain unequal.
In the UK, women make up 55% of academic staff, however, 76% of the professors are men. Additionally, female academics earn 11.3% less than their male counterparts and only eight higher education institutions in the UK pay women the same, or more, than men.
Despite legislative measures such as the 1970 Equal Pay Act, female advancement in universities is still very slow. Women are less likely to have their work cited by other scholars. They are also less likely to be invited to speak at conferences and seminars.
There are steps being taken across institutions to close this gender gap. Professor Paul Boyle, now former Vice-Chancellor of Leicester University, set a target in 2016 for a 1.5% increase in female professors each year. This, in the aim of having 30% female professorship by this year. Additionally, Leicester introduced shared parental leave to prevent women from bearing the brunt of childcare responsibilities. They also created targeted leadership courses and coaching programmes to support female progression to senior roles.
In 2016, David Cameron launched drives to increase equality such as ‘transparency duty’ whereby institutions are required to publish their admissions data by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic class to highlight those failing to improve their access. Cameron also persuaded universities to introduce name-blind applications to prevent individuals from being discriminated on gender or ethnicity.
In 2013, controversy arose when Universities UK, defended their policy of separate seating for men and women for some guest speakers. Cameron criticised the “gender apartheid” and condemned that guest speakers were allowed to address segregated audiences. The policy was subsequently withdrawn.
Professor Athene Donald from the University of Cambridge blamed the gender gap in universities on women not aiming high enough, cultural expectations and inherent gender bias. Donald believes “blokeishness” among undergraduates is worsening due to drinking culture and online sexism.
In 2015, the National Union of Students (NUS) released their Lad Culture Audit, which looked at the impact of this culture in UK universities. It also provides an analysis of the policies in place within Student Unions (SU’s) and the institutions themselves to tackle lad culture. The report defines ‘lad culture’ as a “group or ‘pack’ mentality residing in activities such as sport, heavy alcohol consumption and ‘banter’ which was often sexist, misogynistic, or homophobic”. This sees the objectification and sexualisation of women, and in some extreme cases, promoted rape culture and harassment.
The report found that 1 in 7 women experienced serious sexual or physical assault whilst they were a student. Even more damning, the report showed that only 51% of higher education institutions had a formal policy on sexual harassment. Only 1 in 10 had a policy covering displays of sexist material on campus or online. Furthermore, only 2% of respondents who had experienced sexual violence and felt they were able to report the incident to their university were subsequently satisfied with the reporting process.
An investigation by Channel 4 News found evidence of “an epidemic of sexual violence” within British universities, following an 82% increase in reported incidents of rape and sexual assault from 2017 to 2018 alone. A poll carried out by Revolt Sexual Assault found 70% of female students and recent graduates experienced sexual violence whilst at university.
It is essential for me to add that sexual violence in universities is not just experienced by female students, 26% of males surveyed also experienced sexual harassment or assault whilst at university.
Almost every UK university has found itself embroiled in a sexism scandal. For example in 2018, the University of Exeter, where many POI editors currently study, was forced to expel a number of students after a series of racist and sexist comments made on a WhatsApp group were posted online. Among the comments, made by male members of the now-disbanded Bracton Law Society, were jokes about raping women and girls.
Despite those involved facing severe consequences, the scandal highlights that sexism within universities is not just structural inequality at the top of academia. More dangerously, casual and internalized misogyny, often conducted in private, creates an “ordinariness of sexism” occurring at micro-levels of everyday life. Until this insidious prejudice is removed, prospects of equality through institutional or legislative policy will continue to be undermined.
Written by Conservative Writer, Emer Kelly
Point of Information
Underrepresentation leaves everyone worse off – a Liberal response
Emer writes about a topic which unfortunately is often brushed under the carpet, or simply considered to not exist.
The reality of sexism in academic institutions is as real as it is in almost any other workplace. Although it seems slightly more unsettling for it to be so prevalent in the institutions that are meant to shape ‘the leaders of tomorrow’.
I do not disagree with what has been said in the article. It highlights the two separate, yet very much connected, issues at universities. Firstly sexism within the students, embodied by ‘lad culture’. Secondly, the more systemic kind in the teaching body.
I do not have much more to add. But I would like to approach the existence of sexism in the form of underrepresentation from a slightly different angle.
In cases where there is an unequal representation, this is often considered to only be bad for those in the set underrepresented. As with academic staff at university, this is almost always women.
But everyone suffers from unequal representation.
Let me explain. When thinking about the split of male and female teachers, we only perceive it to be a loss for women. Not as a loss to men.
But men are missing out on what women have to offer in the workplace. A more diverse workspace will offer much more enrichment.
If we believe that our underrepresentation doesn’t affect men adversely, then our implicit message is that there isn’t inherent value in our place in the workspace.
This must be reframed. Don’t misunderstand me. The effects of sexism have for years negatively impacted women at a far more devastating level than men.
Until we reframe the inclusion of women to be beneficial of all, I fear we may not succeed in getting just representation.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Olivia Margaroli
Sexism is a scourge, so what can be done? – a Labour response
Emer’s article does a fantastic job of outlining the pervasive and persistent influence of sexism in academic settings. Universities should be at the forefront of our society; to see that this is not the case is nothing short of a scandal.
However, her response is heavy on stats and light on solutions, so it does start “drowning in data” (something that the sector as a whole suffers from).
I don’t say this to downplay the severity of the situation. We know that inequality is a serious issue. So, our next step should be to support policies that push forward this agenda.
Emer suggests one or two policies but stops there. Why not go further? I want to provide some more suggestions about how we can help make our universities places to proud of again.
Universities are at least partially funded by the UK Government. With a significant drop in revenue expected because of the current crisis, universities will be more reliant than ever on a bailout. If financial support arrives, it should come with strings attached (unlike the shocking missed opportunities within other areas). Like any other arm of the government, academic organisations that fail to meet strict time-sensitive targets should be punished.
Sexist behaviour amongst students is another enormous issue. Solutions will require several different approaches to tackle all the different aspects of this issue. However, that’s not to say we haven’t already made a good start from which we can continue.
Tackling toxic masculinity can help prevent these behaviours before they become an issue, so universities must all sign up to workshops like the Good Lad Initiative, especially in areas like sports. We also need a systematic review of the reporting scheme for sexual behaviour, so that when issues do arise students are not punished for speaking out. Finally, campaigns around consent and how to combat misogynistic behaviour should be made a mandatory part of the curriculum so that everyone is educated on the issue.
These are only some of the many suggestions that fantastic people who are far more informed than me have put into practice. For anyone interested, I suggest you start looking at your own university – ask them when they will do more.
Written by Chief Labour Writer Evan Saunders
I am second year student reading Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Exeter. Next year I hope to study abroad in Washington DC, a dream for any political student.
I’m a third year University of Manchester student, currently studying in Lyon on my Erasmus year (by sheer coincidence I’m writing this hours after parliament has voted to end British involvement in the 30 year programme, so just to be on the safe side I promise not to use the NHS/European Declaration of Human Rights/anything at all anytime soon).