The Australian Story: Catalysts and Inhibitors in the Achievement of New Women Professors

Year: 2010

Author: Diezmann, Carmel M., Grieshaber, Susan J.

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Women are substantially under-represented in the professoriate in Australia with a ratio of one female professor to every three male professors. This gender imbalance has been an ongoing concern with various affirmative action programs implemented in universities but to limited effect. Hence, there is a need to investigate the catalysts for and inhibitors to women’s ascent to the professoriate. This investigation focussed on women appointed to the professoriate between 2005, when a research quality assessment was first proposed, and 2008. Henceforth, these women are referred to as “New Women Professors”. The catalysts and inhibitors in these women’s careers were investigated through an electronic survey and focus group interviews. The survey was administered to new women professors (n=255) and new men professors (n=240) to enable a comparison of responses. However, only women participated in focus group discussions (n=21). An analysis of the survey and interview data revealed that the most critical catalysts for women’s advancement to the professoriate were equal employment opportunities and mentoring. Equal opportunity initiatives provided women with access to traditionally male-dominated forums. Mentoring gave women an insider perspective on the complexity of academia and the politics of the academy. The key inhibitors to women’s career advancement were negative discrimination, the culture of the boys’ club, the tension between personal and professional life, and isolation. Negative discrimination and the boys’ club are problematic because they favour men and marginalise women. The tension between personal and professional life is a particular concern for women who bear children and typically assume the major role in a family for child rearing. Isolation was a concern for both women and men with isolation appearing to increase after ascent to the professoriate. Knowledge of the significant catalysts and inhibitors provides a pragmatic way to orient universities towards redressing the gender balance in the professoriate.

Key Phrase: professors, women, Australian, academic, higher education