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Female lecturers: a rare sighting

Newly released figures on Oxford’s gender pay gap reflect an absence of females in senior university positions

Oxford has just published its gender pay gap statistics, and shockingly there is a significant disparity between the pay of male and female university staff. The headline figure is that Oxford University has a mean gender pay gap of 24.5%, which is above the national average. However, since the mean includes extreme outliers, a more accurate reflection of the situation is the university’s median gender pay gap which stands at 13.7%, lower than the national average of 18.4% but still considerable.

What are the implications of this gender pay gap for students? Given that the primary reason for such a gap is a lack of women in senior roles within the university, the gender pay gap manifests itself in a lack of female staff in top positions. 

In Hilary term of this year, just three out of my 64 scheduled lectures were given by a woman. Throughout the entire academic year, not one of my Economics or Philosophy lecturers has been female. Now, a lack of gender diversity amongst lecturers doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality of teaching is worse. Most of the lecturers I have had so far this year have been fantastic and if I’m being honest, I hadn’t noticed that almost all of them were male until a friend pointed out the blatantly obvious.

However, I am confident that the absence of female lecturers does limit the career ambitions of female students and their engagement with the material. I vividly remember the excited discussions amongst female students after a politics lecture by Professor Sophie Smith last term. Everyone was enthused about the subject (given that the lecture was on a 17th century political philosopher, that’s an achievement) and thrilled that a woman had been giving the lecture. The importance of role models should not be understated – having a female lecturer is inspiring and provides living proof to female students that senior academic positions are attainable.

So how can Oxford tackle this gender discrepancy in its top positions? Whilst the university’s aim to achieve 30% female representation of professors by 2020 is commendable, I sincerely hope that this 30% target does not become a hard quota. Oxford should employ staff members who are best for the job without consideration for their gender: the only thing that Oxford can do is try to reach out to more female applicants and ensure that they do not discriminate in the recruitment process.

Yet to address the root of the problem, the University must focus on promoting female empowerment amongst Oxford students through schemes such as the Careers Service’s annual Springboard Programme. In doing so, Oxford can help to pave the way for its female students to have high-flying careers and perhaps become senior staff at the university itself, thereby closing its gender pay gap in the process.

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