As part of the International Women’s Day celebrations Imperial’s President, Alice Gast (pictured below), hosted a UK event to present the new report assessing the presence of women at the highest levels in Universities. This was attended by delegates from across the country, including the Pro Vice Chancellor of Warwick (Viki Cooke); the Vice Provost of UCL (Dame Nicola Brewer); Vice Chancellor at Kent and Chair of Universities UK (Dame Julia Goodfellow); Vice Principal, Aberdeen (Margaret Ross); Pro Chancellor, Bath (Baroness Royall of Blaydon) and the Chief Executive of the BBSRC (Melanie Welham). The morning was introduced by the Rt Hon Micky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities. She first voiced what was to be a frequently repeated refrain “the question is not whether women should have an equal role in running the Universities, but how”.

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The report itself http://www.women-count.org/, presented by its author Norma Jarboe OBE, was encouraging in that progress has been made particularly in governing body roles,  where the presence on Executive Committees has grown to 36% in 2015 from 32% in 2013.  These are the pipelines for the highest roles, as well as the committees which drive structural change in the Institutions themselves. Also, the Executive teams for Vice Chancellors are 34% female. However, Chair roles on Executive Committees are still low, with men taking 81% of those positions. Men also make up 78% of Vice Chancellors or Principals, with women increasing their share by 5% since the last report.  One point made several times was the difficulty of sustaining progress within an institution: the increase from 32% to 36% hides a decrease in female representation in some institutions while others have gained a lead.

For the future, a new HE code of governance has been published with an aspirational target of 40% women governing board members, and the Athena SWAN charter mark has been embraced as a sector standard.  The words of our own President and Provost at this event, as well as their very public and active support of Athena initiatives, are playing a strong role embedding the Athena principles in the culture of Imperial.

By Prof Sian Harding, NHLI Institute Lead for Women

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