A former rector at a Swedish university recently tweeted the following:
1 out of 6 university presidents is a woman in UK, in Sweden 1 out of 2 #thewas
— Jan-Eric Sundgren (@JESundgren) October 4, 2013
I can’t vouch for the accuracy of his information, but the tweet did prompt a follow-up query from a Canadian: “Curious what it is in Canada,” tweeted @rosemary_reilly.
That I can help with. The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada counts 97 “public and private not-for-profit universities and university degree-level colleges,” so that’s our denominator. Of those 97 member institutions, 22 are headed by women, or 23 percent.
University presidents (n=97)
75 men (77%)
22 women (23%)
Relevant to this discussion is the fact that there has been a high turnover of university presidents in the past few years (an issue we recently covered in University Affairs). By my count, 56 new presidents have been appointed since 2009, a turnover at the top of well over 50 percent in four years. Did we use this opportunity to hire more women?
Yes, in fact. In a blog post I wrote in the spring of 2009, I counted 14 women university leaders, with two more female appointments scheduled to take effect within a couple of months. So, as of August 2009, there were 16 women heading what were then 94 member institutions (17 percent, or roughly one in six).
Depending on how you look at it, then, the current numbers aren’t so bad. A rise from 16 to 22 women in four years is nearly 38 percent. On the other hand, women still account for fewer than one in four university presidents.
I’m sure most people would like to see more women in senior roles at Canada’s universities. Women are making progress up the academic ladder, but it’s slow. According to last year’s report by the Council of Canadian Academies, Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension, as of 2008-09, women held one-third of all faculty positions in Canada; of those, approximately 43 percent were assistant professors, 36 percent were associate professors and 22 percent were full professors.
This led me to wonder what we’d find if we looked one level lower then executive head, at vice-presidents at Canada’s universities. Perhaps more women are filling these posts, some of whom will eventually make it to the top (the “pipeline” theory). I therefore looked at the current gender distribution for vice-presidents, academic, and vice-presidents, research (the exact titles may differ from institution to institution). At some of the smaller institutions, the same person fills both roles, so sometimes they’re being counted in each category. Also, in a few institutions it was hard to identify who held these roles, so the numbers don’t quite add up to 97.
Vice-presidents, academic (n=94)
69 men (73%)
25 women (27%)
Vice-presidents, research (n=91)
70 men (77%)
21 women (23%)
As you can see, the numbers barely differ from the ratio for presidents – so much for that theory. I admit I was a bit disappointed. Am I making too much of these numbers? Is this a simplistic proxy for how women are doing in academic administration? I’d like to hear what our readers think.