Women at universities: they are not in charge and they earn less

The major issues in Czech education and science are overwhelmingly decided by men. For example, only two rectors and less than a third of vice-rectors at Czech universities are women. According to an in-depth monitoring report by the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS), there are more women in academia than ten years ago, but their numbers are rising too slowly. What is the solution? Many universities are introducing kindergarten allowances or offering childcare and flexible working arrangements.

The gap between the ratio of men and women in Czech academia is closing – but at an almost imperceptible rate and very slowly. In 2005, 22% of associate professors (“docents”) and 11% of full professors at Czech universities were female, while ten years later, in 2015, their numbers increased to 25% and 15%, respectively. These are the results of the in-depth 2015 monitoring report that maps the position of women in Czech universities and science and which was published last year by the National Contact Centre for Gender & Science at the Institute of Sociology, CAS. According to the report, there were over 17,000 academic staff at Czech universities in 2015 of whom less than 36% were women. (The monitoring report for 2016 was published in early September 2018. This article had been finished before the new report became available. We are currently working on a new article reflecting the new data.).

Hana Tenglerová, the author of the monitoring report, summarises the results as follows: “The percentage of women in research has been almost stagnant for decades. We must conclude that Czech research has consistently been unable to provide opportunities for well-qualified women. This is detrimental not only to the potential and careers of female researchers but especially to Czech research as a whole since we are losing ideas and solutions that could move our society forward.”

Fewer decision-making positions

The overview of decision-makers in academia is also telling: in 2015, these were mostly men as well. The overall proportion of women heading research, higher education and other R&D institutions such as grant agencies, the Council of Higher Education Institutions and the Research, Development and Innovation Council was only 10.3% in 2015.
According to a review undertaken by the editors of Universitas.cz in July, only two out of the 28 Czech public and government-run universities are headed by female rectors and only 32 out of the 118 vice-rectors are women. The ratio of women to men is less than a third – just 27%.

Lower salaries

Discrepancies can also be found in salaries. According to the data collected by the Czech Ministry of Education, the average salary of male associate professors is almost 57,000 crowns gross and that of male full professors 73,000, while their female counterparts only earn 50,000 and 69,000, respectively.

In 2015, over 80 awards were given out in the Czech Republic for achievements in research, innovations and teaching. However, only 17% of these were given to women.

Nevertheless, there are also awards designed specifically for female researchers, such as the L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards For Women in Science. The awards are given every year to two talented female scientists in two age categories – up to 35 years old and from 36 to 45 years and the winners are chosen by an expert committee based on their submitted research projects. In the Czech Republic, the award programme has been running since 2006, with over 30 young female scientists receiving the award. The prize money of up to 250,000 Czech crowns that comes with the prize is not tied to research. The winners can use it for personal development, such as training and education, or to pay for a nanny for their child: the decision is entirely theirs.

“Our main goal is to support young researchers who are beginning their careers, as this is the time where any initial failure can demotivate them from pursuing their scientific goals further. In this way, L’Oréal would like to motivate future generations of young girls who are considering a research career. Our country needs their talent,” says Tomáš Hruška, L’Oréal general manager for the Czech Republic.

Meanwhile, the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague (UCT Prague) recently established the Julie Hamáčková Award. One of the goals of the award is to recognise women for their extraordinary contribution to the development of science, research or education. “The competition has now been running for three years and the winners are always announced in November, one week before the Student Scientific Conference at the university,” says Anna Mittnerová, one of the organisers of the award at UCT Prague.

Meetings with women are more to the point, says female rector

One of the two Czech female rectors is Danuše Nerudová, who assumed her office as the rector of Mendel University in Brno in February this year. Mendel University is also one of the few that has more female than male vice-rectors, with a ratio of three to two. As Nerudová explains, “I looked for qualifications, skills and a hard-working attitude when I was choosing the top management team. Having three female and two male vice-rectors just happens to be the result of these criteria.”

Nerudová adds that none of her male colleagues was thrown off guard by the gender balance. “However, I dare say it has had a positive impact on the wider university management team. It changed the communication patterns that were established in the male-only environment. Our meetings are now more to the point and constructive,” she adds.

Nerudová sees the increase – albeit a very slow one – in the number of women in important positions in academia as a good sign, an early indication of a positive trend. “However, the road to higher numbers will be very long. From my own experience, I know that it is often women themselves who are behind these low numbers. And that is because they often underestimate themselves, much more so than men, and give more weight to any weak points they might have than men would in their place,” says Nerudová, adding that this is also the reason why they do not have any female deans. “No woman tried to run for the office at any of the faculties. All the candidates were men,” she explains.

In her opinion, the Czech Republic is a rare case in Europe. In the European Woman Rectors Association, for example, “there are many more women from other countries than from the Czech Republic,” she notes. According to her colleague Zdenka Papoušková, who is the dean of the Faculty of Law at Palacký University in Olomouc, the attitude of the male academics is also important: “If there is a competent woman who can take on this responsible and demanding job, men should not take her aspiration as an attack on themselves,” she recommends.
This is no “Maiden’s War”, jokes female dean.

According to the Czech female deans, academia was extremely prejudiced against women for a long time. Alice Němcová Tejkalová, the dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Charles University, says she has heard dozens of alarming stories about the behaviour towards her female colleagues or their friends, often on the part of respected authorities in their field. This included belittling their ambitions, making unsavoury jokes or underestimating their abilities when they needed to balance careers and family.
“I once experienced something similar in the Czech TV sports department. At the same time, I can feel that the atmosphere has changed in recent years. You have to start somewhere, and the important thing is that the people who manage an institution are not prejudiced and choose their colleagues based on their abilities and not their gender,” says Němcová Tejkalová. She also adds that the Charles University management team of the current rector Tomáš Zíma includes several highly-capable female vice-rectors, who made it clear that there is no reason to undervalue women and paved the way for others to follow.

“When I ran for the office of director of the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism, one of the prominent representatives of our faculty asked me whether I ran for the office to wage a ‘Maiden’s War’. I managed to stay cool and told him that I would have to be very stupid to do that since anyone who knows anything about Czech legends also knows how badly that war ended for the maidens,” says Němcová Tejkalová with a smile.

When she asks some of her colleagues for recommendations, they always come up with a male name. Only when she asks specifically whether they also know of any competent woman, they frequently mention a teacher or researcher who is just as good or even better than the previous person. “But the first choice for them is always a man. It will be wonderful when questions like this and the increasing number of women in leadership roles finally make these people think differently,” says Němcová Tejkalová.

Quotas are not the way to go

Mendel University in Brno has already launched a plan to increase the number of women in decision-making roles. It is currently the only university in the Czech Republic undertaking a gender audit in cooperation with the Czech Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Based on the results of the audit, the university will take measures to improve equal opportunities.

And Nerudová also has other plans. “Another project I would like to implement is offering mentoring to talented women and motivating them to compete for leadership roles”.

Together with other women in the university management team, she is already planning that they will try to find promising female colleagues and share their experience with them. “Another tool I would like to introduce is something called ‘be compliant or explain’ in Western countries. This means that, in general, you must follow the rule of equal opportunities, and if you have to break it, you also have to explain why. Experience shows that this positive approach works better than restrictions,” explains Nerudová.

At the same time, she does not think quotas are the way to go. “I am against quotas and see them as something almost demeaning,” she says resolutely. In her opinion, the key factor is the internal culture at the university and accepting the fact that the equal opportunities problem is real. “Obviously, the second step is that the university and faculty leaders have to serve as role models and ask questions – such as how come that there is no woman on the main panel at this particular conference,” suggests Nerudová.

The University of Economics in Prague is expanding its childcare programme

The other university currently led by a woman is the University of Economics in Prague, whose rector Hana Machková is not in favour of quotas or any other preferential treatment to help women reach the top positions in universities, either. “I think it would be demeaning to use these types of support at universities. However, I am a great fan of supporting young women once they have come back from parental leave. This is where the whole problem starts because it means a career delay for women,” says Machková in summary.

In Machková’s opinion, women are also reluctant to compete for leadership positions, such as the rector’s or dean’s offices, because they are elected functions. As she says, “I think women are largely discouraged by the election process itself because they are less competitive, but mainly because they are worried about the factors that go with elections, such as aggressive forms of campaigns on social media, which are unfortunately often associated with elections.”

The University of Economics already has a kindergarten, which is now being expanded with a new section to help older children prepare for school. They are also considering introducing other types of support to help women restart their research careers after parental leave.

Mothers who are researchers often have to downsize their careers

Balancing their personal lives and careers is an important topic for Czech female scientists. Last year, the CAS Institute of Psychology conducted an extended survey of 2,000 Czech researchers and one of the recommendations was to help academics to achieve a better work-life balance. This could help many of them alleviate stress, which is one of the main triggers of occupational burnout. The respondents confirmed that in their answers: “Our faculty opened a kindergarten – I would have been so happy to have had something like that when I needed it! Now I see my colleagues using it; they accept children from 2.5 years of age, which is great. Moreover, you have an insight into the management of the kindergarten and it runs just great. I think it’s absolutely marvellous,” said one of the female researchers in the survey.

Working during parental or maternity leave is still rather unusual in Czech academia. What usually happens is that the woman, even if she was a successful researcher before having children, puts her career on the back burner to take care of her family. This is what happened to the Bryja family: Vítězslav Bryja, a molecular biologist and geneticist at the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University and the winner of the Neuron Award in 2016, has five children with his wife Lenka Bryjová, who is also a molecular biologist and geneticist. When the married couple lived in Sweden with their first two children, they worked at the same university. “After we came back, we wanted more children – and it ended up being three more. My wife was certainly the one who downsized her career and took over a larger share of family care,” says Bryja.

Flexible working arrangements

Another academic institution where gender balance is taken seriously is the Faculty of Social Sciences at Charles University. This faculty supports flexible working arrangements that allow women returning from parental leave to reconcile work with taking care of their child.

The faculty also offers kindergarten allowances for the parents of children between two and four years. “This is a measure I implemented when I was in charge of social affairs as a member of the rector’s board. Recently, we also started offering one day per week of working from home to administrative workers with children under ten years old and when their children are sick. And we offer the same option to those who are taking care of an elderly family member,” says Dean Němcová Tejkalová. It is also more and more common for male colleagues to ask for changes in their working arrangements, as men are becoming increasingly involved in taking care of children and the household. The faculty is trying to accommodate them by offering working from home and similar options.

More female than male students, but none at the top

Surprisingly, the highest number of female students at technical universities can be found at the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague, where the overall percentage of women among students is currently 60%. However, the university is doing much worse when it comes to the number of women in management. There is no female vice-rector and the ratio of male to female professors is 90% to 10%. This is one of the reasons why UCT Prague joined the European Trigger project to investigate these issues in more depth. The four-year project ended last year, bringing an extensive survey on gender issues among university employees and a number of other improvements.

“While our university has markedly more female than male students, the situation in professorial positions is in direct contrast to that. This is why we wanted to analyse the situation and start removing any obstacles that might result in unequal conditions, but it is a long-term process,” explains Michal Janovský, spokesman for UCT Prague.

UCT Prague participates in a number of international projects, frequently as the project leader. Recently, project applications started putting more emphasis on how the university deals with gender issues in research and education.

“Unfortunately, the system of science and research funding does not take into account that women have children after finishing their studies and that even a short career break makes it difficult for them to get back on the wagon,” says Anna Mittnerová, who led the project at UCT Prague. One of the results is that the university established a kindergarten called DK Zkumavka (“Test tube”) for children between two and seven years, which is very popular among university employees and continues to run even though the project has ended.

“We also succeeded in amending the rules of our Internal Grant Agency so that grants can now be awarded to female students who interrupted their PhD studies due to maternity or parental leave and would like to resume them,” explains Mittnerová. Whenever possible, the university also allows employees to work from home, part-time or with flexible working hours.

Janovský adds that at UCT Prague, qualifications and competence always come first regardless of gender. “This is why we do not follow any quotas. However, it is obvious that diversity in any form benefits any group. Academia has traditionally been very conservative and university leadership used to be – and often still is – dominated by men. We try to react to this by giving an equal chance to everyone, offering maximum support to mothers and making it absolutely clear to female researchers that we invite and welcome their involvement in leadership positions,” concludes Janovský.

Even Cambridge and Oxford have low numbers of women

Even prominent universities abroad are not doing so well in terms of gender balance. The prestigious UK magazine Times Higher Education focused on more than 200 universities in western and southern Europe. Middlesex University London had the best results as the only university with a 50:50 gender ratio. It actually has more women than men in its management team with a ratio of 63 to 37. On the contrary, the famous universities of Oxford and Cambridge are on the lower rungs of the rankings. At both universities, women constitute less than a third – 29% – of all employees.

The author is an editor of Hospodářské noviny.