THE NETHERLANDS: Too few women are professors

Universities in the Netherlands have 271 full professors who are women - out of a total of 2,321, or less than 12%. A recent report reviews these statistics and trends, and discusses how to boost the proportion of new female professors.

At Eindhoven University of Technology, out of 127 professors only two are women, a mere 1.6%, while at the universities of Leiden, Amsterdam and Radboud University Nijmegen more than 16% are female.

A report titled Monitor Women Professors, published recently by a group of Dutch organisations working for employees' rights in academia and science, concluded the present rate in appointing women to full professorships was too low to achieve the national target of 15% by this year - and significantly lower than the EU Lisbon Agreement recommendation of 25% by 2010.

With the current rate of women appointments to full professors amounting to a mere 0.5% annual increase, the national target will not be reached until the end of 2014. The report says now is a golden opportunity to redress the gender imbalance given that 625 professors (or 27% of the total in Dutch universities) will retire during the next five years and 95% of these are men. It says there are sufficient numbers of women associate professors to take up the posts of a substantial number of these men.

The report's authors create a "glass ceiling index" to try to work out at which point in their career women experience the greatest hindrance to further promotion. They conclude that women experience blockages at all stages of their career but that the glass ceiling is thickest at the transition from assistant professor to associate professor.

The report does not discuss the experience of some European universities which use a preferential treatment of women when advertising academic posts. To facilitate the recruitment of women to permanent positions, the University of Oslo promoted them to positions in fields where they were generally under-represented.

This was recommended by the Norwegian parliament in 1998 but in 2003, the EFTA court ruled against the government, saying that such a move was unlawful under the EEA agreement.

Marieke van den Berg, President of SoFoKleS, an organisation that co-produced the report, suggests useful approaches to boosting women numbers in senior academic positions could include coaching, mentoring, establishing women networks, providing financial incentives and correcting gender bias in appraisal procedures while making academic culture more women friendly.