The enormous scale of the gender divide at Oxford University has been exposed by an OUSU Report released this week.
The in-depth study into academic and student life at the University disclosed that fewer than 10% of professors, only a sixth of JCR Presidents and less than a third of presidents of student political societies are women.
The investigation was carried out by OUSU VP for Women, Rachel Cummings, who confirmed that she was extremely concerned by the findings.
They demonstrate that women are alarmingly underrepresented at an academic level: only five out of 24 members of the University council and just 17 out of 116 heads of academic departments are women. The University has never had a female Chancellor or Vice-Chancellor.
The dichotomy was not only limited to academia however, with merely five female JCR Presidents currently serving across Oxford in comparison to 31 male counterparts. MCR’s by contrast seem to be more balanced, although their female presidents are still outnumbered by 14 to 25.
Speaking in reaction to the survey, Rachel Cummings said that the OUSU Executive were working with officials from the University in order to try and bridge the gap.
“I think the lack of female academics at the University is a serious problem, partly because of all the talent we must be currently wasting.”
The report was commission to help combat a plague of female underrepresentation throughout University, as shown in the long existing Finals Gap, which consistently sees more men than women achieving First Class degrees.
A spokesman for Oxford University said that the disparity had been consistently investigated by the University’s Education Committee over the last decade, but that they were not necessarily any closer to finding a solution.
“Research has been carried out for over 10 years and has failed to reveal any significant factor that influences examination results,” he said.
“For example, neither the type of examination nor a difference in stress levels have shown to have any significant effect on a difference in performance between genders.”
Meanwhile on the subject of the tiny number of female professors, the spokesman pointed out that this was in part due to a lower number of applications for academic positions from women, despite success rates for both genders being similar.
“It is true generally in academia that fewer women move through each stage of the academic career path. It’s a bit like a leaky pipeline.”
He added that a number of programmes had been put in place in order to try and confront this, including the the Career Development Fellowship (CDF) and Academic Leadership Development Programme.
The report also pointed out that of Oxford’s 39 constituent colleges, 30 have higher male populations than female. Keble and Somerville were some of the few colleges boasting a female majority, whilst approximately two-thirds of students studying at Balliol are men – the highest proportion.
Female student leaders from across Oxford gave their reaction to the findings, highlighting a variety of factors as to why so few women seem to benefit from the Oxford system as well as men.
Katy Theobald, President of Oxford Women in Politics said she believed the lack of women to look up to around the University was a key factor.
“The problem is that the current situation doesn’t provide enough female role models,” she said.
“If you’re never given a tute by a woman or never sit in a lecture by a woman then you don’t have examples to aspire to.”
Meanwhile Katherine Terrell, JCR President at St Hilda’s, thought that the problem is a self-perpetuating one.
She said, “Some have suggested that hustings are off-putting for female candidates because often they include challenges such as drinking a dirty pint, assuming women are less willing to do this, but even at colleges where these kind of hustings do not take place, female candidates are just as unlikely, and it seems like a simple answer to a complex problem. I feel that the lack of JCR presidents is a self-perpetuating problem, and a worrying one.”
The gender gap appeared to be less visible in student societies however. The Law Society had a female to male ratio of 10:11 and the report notes the high female population of Amnesty International committees. The difference is still acute though in Oxford’s political societies.
Since 2000, women have made up 28% of Labour club (OULC) co-chairs, 18% of Oxford University Liberal Democrats (OULD) presidents and only 3.5% of Conservative Association (OUCA) presidents.
OUCA have been particularly singled out in the past for their low active female membership. They have no Women’s Officer and Port and Policy is often used as a prime example of a male dominated event.
One female attendee, who wished to remain anonymous, remarked, “”It seems that the men are there to do the debating and the women to pour the port.”
She added, “It’s sad that an Association of the party that produced the first female prime minister could have failed so miserably to move beyond gender stereotypes.”
Asked to comment OUCA President, Anthony Boutall, said that role of women was very important to the organization and stressed that the society had moved on from previous stereotypes.
“Women have been exceptionally valuable to the progress in OUCA has made,” he said.
“I recommend OUCA events to any women in Oxford who may have been put off previously by unfavourable stories. I know that you would not experience anything other than respect.”