Education is an industry that for centuries, women were barred from entering. Throughout history, women’s education has been of a significant lack of quality to that for men. It wasn’t until the Victorian era that the fight for better education for women was listened and responded to on a large scale. In the late nineteenth and twentieth century, women sought higher education, and in 1975, after the Sex Discrimination Act came in, which barred universities from discriminating against gender, with many colleges becoming co-educational.
In higher education, this bias still exists today, with only 20% of professorships being held by women, and an overall lack of representation in educational leadership has led to several responses from the public, including #WomensEd, which brought to light the gender inequalities being faced.
According to the Department of Education, 26% of teachers in England are male, and in secondary and primary schools, we see more female teachers than male. Despite this dominant workforce, only 36% of headteachers in English secondary schools are women. So, whilst we see a higher number of women teaching in our schools, there is still a glass ceiling that challenges rising to positions of leadership; a discrepancy accredited to the number of governors that stand in the way of diversity and to the barriers that exist for women candidates and not men.
In education at a university level, this imbalance is significantly more difficult to challenge. More women are attending universities these days, but on the academic workforce, are severely underrepresented, with only a quarter of senior positions held by women. This statistic is demonstrably lower for black and minority women, for whom higher positions are exceedingly difficult to work. Out of all staff, male and female, only 15% were BME as of 2017. There are only 25 black female professors in the UK.
Within the higher education, we also see larger pay gaps, with 9 out of 10 universities paying men more than their female counterparts, on average 8.4% less, with some gaps rising to 33.7% less.
In student evaluations of professors, distinctive sexist biases show, with terms such as ‘brilliant’, ‘genius’ and ‘smart’, used to describe male professors, and ‘mean’, ‘harsh’, ‘annoying,’ applied to women. This unconscious bias from students has significant implications in regard to the future hiring and promotion of staff. Alongside the struggles of female students in universities, the struggle for women to rise to high positions in academia in a professional sense is an ongoing one, with collective calls through social media for an improvement in pay and a reduction of gender bias and discrimination. Several studies have also shown that women professors face a higher workload than men, often being held to a different standard and performing more service than male faculty.
As in many other industries, women in academia face prejudice and stereotyping due to appearance, character and behaviours, stemming from student perceptions of dress and physical appearance and emotional presence and nurturing.
In STEM fields, women make up only 30% of scientists with 22% of the academic workforce being female. The numbers of women in the engineering, scientific, mathematical and computing workforce are rising slowly in recent years, as well as female students, but the number is still significantly lower than the number of men working and teaching in the field. Women are being encouraged to pursue an education in STEM and to transition into the workforce to see this gap reduce.
‘Women share this planet 50/50 and they are underrepresented—their potential astonishingly untapped.’ – Emma Watson
Across the world, female educators are vital to the inspiration of young girls, being seen as role models for the future generations. At school, one my favourite teachers was an English teacher I had. She used to let me read the books she brought in to see if they were any good. She nurtured my curiosity and interests, and its no wonder I remember her.
In the fight for gender equality, seeing women in education, students and educations, and encouraging the lessening of discrimination against all women in positions of leaderships is vital. They are in a unique position to face inequalities developed in youth head on, empowering all students, and guiding female students through education.
Dancing Backwards in High Heels: Female Professors Experience More Work Demands and Special Favour Requests, Particularly from Academically Entitled Students – Amani El-Alayli, Ashley A. Hansen-Brown and Michelle Ceyna.
Opinion: Female teachers key to achieving gender equality in education – Concerção da Glória Sozinho UK Black Female Professors/Staying Power – Dr Nicola Rollock