One step closer to gender equality in Irish higher education institutions


On November 12th 2018, the Gender Equality Taskforce Action Plan for Higher Education 2018-2020 was launched by Irish Minister for Higher Education, Ms. Mitchell O’Connor. In addition to this Action Plan, the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative has been launched, which foresees the creation of 45 senior academic posts for women in Higher Education colleges nationwide.

In Ireland, over half of academics are women; however, only 36% of senior lecturer positions are held by females and less than a quarter of tenured university professors are women. The Higher Education Authority released an expert report in 2016 on gender equality in Irish higher education institutions which predicted that gender balance in top leadership positions would not be achieved in our lifetimes if we waited for change to naturally occur. This report also underscored that ambitious and radical recommendations were crucial to ensure progression towards gender equality.

Building on this report, the Gender Equality Taskforce looks at institutional gender action plans and ways to embed gender equality in organisational culture. More specifically, it aims to incentivise progress by linking HEA block grant funding to an institution’s performance in addressing gender inequality and to ensure sustainable acceleration towards gender equality through centralised support for HEIs and dissemination of good practice. Likewise, this Action Plan will require gender-proofing of recruitment and promotion procedures and practices and will strengthen the requirement for Athena SWAN SWAN certification, for all Irish Higher Education Institutions. Both the Action Plan and the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative have been warmly welcomed by the Higher Education Authority, the Irish Research Council, the Science Foundation in Ireland, the Health Research Board and the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT).

ETUCE recently adopted its Resolution on setting the priorities to develop an action plan for equality, at its Special Conference in November 2018, which sheds light on, among others, the low percentage of women in leadership positions, gender stereotyping, and the glaring gender pay gap in the teaching profession. ETUCE recalls that appropriate legislation is essential to ensure that women and men are equally represented at all levels of the education sector and congratulates Ireland on the actions it has taken to promote gender equality in higher education.