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3:42pm on Saturday, 13th July, 2013:
There are over 40 members of academic staff in the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering at Essex University. One is female, the rest are male. We did have two, but Bristol poached the other one last year.
So, why is it we only have one female member of staff?
The lazy answer — sexism on the department's part — doesn't really hold: we may have only one female member of staff, but she's Head of School. The thing is, we never get suitable female applicants for any of the job openings we have (where "suitable" equates to "any").
So why don't we get any female applicants?
The standard response to this is that women in the UK are put off science and engineering. Unlike France in Iran, where the majority of engineering graduates are female, in the UK most of the graduates are men. The thing is, that doesn't make the slightest difference to us.
Here's why: new academic staff are taken from the ranks of postgraduates. We must have close to 300 PhD students in our department, of whom around 10-15 are from the UK. The rest are from overseas. Even if schoolgirls were chained to their desks and forced to learn science and engineering, it would barely make a difference to the gender balance of our PhD students. There are too few PhD grants around, so if you want to do a PhD you have to be wealthy. Wealthy people in Britain don't want PhDs in practical subjects, they want them in subjects with either cultural capital (arts, humanities) or money-making potential (business). They can pay other people to do the technical stuff.
So, our recruitment pool for lecturers-of-the-future consists mainly of people from other countries.
Now most of our overseas students are male, but not all. I don't know what the proportion of female PhD students we have on our books is, but I'd guess it's no higher than 25% and is probably a lot lower. That still means a quarter of our job applicants should be female, though, right?
Well, no. By the time they've finished their PhD, these students are in their mid-20s. They're either married or about to get married. They're going to want children. They're going to want these children to grow up in their own culture. The effect of this is that almost all our female PhD students go back to their country of origin once they've got their PhD. Many male ones go back, too, but some will either stay to get a job (as an ex-patriate, sending money back home to their family) or they marry later.
This isn't the case with EU nationals, but most of our PhD students are from the Middle East, India, China and Africa. It's possible we may get female applicants from there (the Head of School and the poached professor are both from Greece). It's unlikely we'll get any from the UK, though.
So, if we a more balanced ratio of male-to-female members of staff, what can we do?
Sadly, the answer seems to be that we sack all-but-one of the male members of staff. Then, it'll be 50/50.
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