Bias that stops women academics reaching the top Dreaming spires appointing too few women to top posts

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The Independent Online
Women are still struggling to reach the top academic jobs, particularly in the oldest universities, says a survey published yesterday. Only 8 per cent of professors are female, though about half the places on university degree courses are filled by women.

Women face the toughest fight for equality in traditional universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. Oxford has 15 women professors out of a total of 232 and only 5.3 per cent of Cambridge professors are women. The figures for 1995-96 are revealed in a survey compiled for the Times Higher Education Supplement.

Two new universities, South Bank in London and Oxford Brookes, come top of the league table. One-third of their professors are women. However, the new University of Plymouth is bottom: only 1 of its 44 professors is a woman.

Professor Susan Greenfield, 46, professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, known for her research into Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, was given an honorary professorship last year after more than 20 years at the university. That means she has the title but no extra money: her basic university salary is pounds 30,000.

She said: "One of the problems is prejudice of a sinister type. I have never been aware that I have been denied a job because of my gender, but I have made remarks on university committees and been ignored as though I were invisible. Women are not seen as being as competent as men. We are going to have to think about how women deal minute-by-minute, day-by-day with snide remarks and put-downs.

"I was talking to three male colleagues the other day and frowning because I was trying to understand what was being said. One of them said `there is no point frowning at me like that, Susan'. Would he have said that to a man? In one sense, it seems trivial, but if you have that every day, it erodes confidence."

There was a particular problem for women scientists, she suggested, because, unlike colleagues in arts subjects, they could not work at home when they had small children and, if they took time off, they rapidly lost touch with new advances in their field. "There is no way you can compete for a grant if you have been away from the job for two years. It is no coincidence that I don't have children," she said, adding that prejudice was not confined to men. Women often had a low opinion of other women.

An Oxford University spokeswoman said it now had 30 women professors after the appointment of 15 honourary women professors last year. Among its top female academics are Kay Davies, professor of genetics; Dr Jessica Rawson, warden of Merton College and an expert on ancient China; and Carole Jordan, professor of physics.

At London University, female professors include Lisa Jardine, professor of English, and Heather Liddell, professor of computer science, both at Queen Mary and Westfield College. The survey shows that female professors are most likely to be found in medicine, education and librarianship and least likely in engineering, technology and agriculture.