Career development and gender equality in academia and research


The Higher Education and Research Standing Committee (HERSC) of ETUCE discussed questions of   career development of higher education teachers and researchers, with a spotlight on gender equality to mark International Women's Day. The event was held on 7-8 March 2023 in Brussels.

Regarding obstacles to quality and sustainable jobs, trade union representatives stressed many challenges concerning the retention of academics and researchers, such as heavy workloads, high number of non-permanent contracts, and a constant fight for permanent funding. This explains the findings of a survey conducted in Norway, which found that only one in five postdocs would advise young people to commit to a career in research. Trade unions of the higher education and research sector workers and representatives of the European Commission discussed the development of two frameworks for attractive and sustainable careers in higher education and research. The participants were critical about pursuing mobility and transnational cooperation under the Erasmus scheme, calling for rethinking this type of mobility as it is not meant to address dynamic cooperation between universities. Education trade unions acknowledged that permanent status for researchers, decent salary and working conditions are not guaranteed within or outside academia, for example in for-profit institutes.

As for the need to promote gender equality, experiences from Albania, Sweden and France were presented. Representatives of trade unions from higher education and research  acknowledged the existence of similar gender inequality issues in academia in many countries across Europe. The SHE Figures Study 2021 shows that women are under-represented at the highest level in academia and in decision-making positions. Overall, women account for 42.3% of academic staff and only 23.6% of rectors of higher education institutions are women. Moreover, women are close to reaching gender parity among doctoral graduates but are still under-represented in technical professions. While the ratio of women among doctoral graduates in EU equals to 48.1%, female proportion is lower (24.9%) among self-employed professionals in Science and Engineering and Information and Communication Technologies. In addition, more women work under precarious contracts than their male counterparts. Hence, several disparities exist among men and women such as unequal pay or pensions gaps, difficulty of reconciling work and private life and access to research funding.

In Sweden, a study titled "Spotlight on gender equality: When insecurity overshadows everything" shows that while the number of women graduates exceeds that of men, this proportion is completely reversed when it comes to attaining full professor status. Likewise, in Albania while women represent 77.9% of the students and academic staff,  in the later stages of career, the ratio of women is declining progressively, falling to 69.2% among associate professors and to 50.4% among full professors. The discrepancy in terms of participation of women and men in research, innovation and leadership reflects hidden cultural barriers.

However, progress can be facilitated with the help of actions from governments as in Ireland, where a Gender Equality Taskforce Action Plan for Higher Education was put in place by the government to help increase the ratio of female univeristy rectors. Therefore, strong social dialogue is needed to facilitate cooperation between education trade unions and governments. Education trade unions will continue to lobby governments and academic institutions to protect workers in higher education, especially to fight against gender inequality and prevent cases of psychosocial risks such as sexual harassment. In this regard, participants stressed the importance of trade unions` involvement and social dialogue in every aspect of governance.