Traditionally the discussion of gender and power has been fairly limited – patriarchy has been at the centre of global politics for over two thousand years. Fortunately though, it appears that this male-dominated sphere is finally beginning to change: Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, Angela Merkel, Hilary Clinton. In the west, women are winning the votes.
Nonetheless, despite this initial progress in social equality, the decision to elect a female prime minister (the second in our country’s history) has been controversially discussed and debated in the media for months.
Are we really so sexist that in 2016 we still can’t accept women in positions of power?
As university students, surely we are used to seeing women in charge? After all, Exeter’s previous chancellor was Baroness Floella Benjamin, a businesswoman, politician and presenter who for the last decade successfully governed thousands of students across three separate campuses (Streatham, St Luke’s & Penryn). However, below the role of chancellor, the number of women in top academic roles across the university is startling low.
According to gender equality data collected in 2009/10, male staff made up 86.5% of Exeter’s professors, despite the fact that more women were employed by the university as a whole (a female staff total of 51.7%). Woman in power, it seems, are few and far between.
Today, only seven out of the twenty-four Russel Group universities in the UK have a female chancellor, and out of that seven, five have exactly the same chancellor – Princess Anne. Surely we can do better than that?
Higher education institutions drastically need to rethink and reform their concepts of equality, particularly for positions of power. Although there has been a recent positive trend in more women going to university than ever before (over the academic year of 2014/15, female HE students made up 56%), a disproportionate lack of top-earning female academic staff continues to keep universities behind the times. It’s 2016 and we need change.