Women remain vastly under-represented in top tier academic positions in New Zealand, new research shows.
A just-published study offers another bleak snapshot at the gender gap across the country's eight universities, finding there was little parity in senior roles between 2012 and 2017.
While most universities had equitable proportions of women in their academic workforces in 2017, the study found that men dominated the more senior employment positions – making up 64 to 69 per cent of associate professors and heads of department and 74 per cent to 81 per cent of professors and deans – over the five year-period analysed.
Consistent with previous research, gender disparities in senior university roles within New Zealand could not be explained by male and female age difference distributions.
The study, led by Te Pūnaha Matatini associate investigator Leilani Walker, follows a University of Canterbury paper that found female academics will be paid $400,000 less than their male counterparts throughout their career.
That study found that a male researcher at a New Zealand university had more than double the odds of being ranked professor or associate professor than a woman with a similar age and research score.
It also revealed the average male researcher earns more in a lifetime than the average female researcher, with research score and age accounting for only 40 to 70 per cent of the pay gap, depending on the field.
Walker said her research highlighted how we were still seeing "an absence" of women at the higher levels of academic employment at our universities.
"There are disproportionately fewer women in senior lecturer, professor positions and so forth, and this is in spite of various programmes that have been developed to try to improve the situation. Based on the data we have, it looks like women are proceeding up the academic promotion ladder at a slower rate than their male colleagues."
These findings may provide a timely opportunity for New Zealand's academic institutions to review and update their processes around hiring and promotion, Walker said.
"We have a variety of programmes at New Zealand universities that try and help promote the careers of women into more senior positions, but it's not really apparent in our minds whether they work.
"We also question the extent to which just increasing the number of people present can create a culture change. Should we instead be starting to look at ways of engendering a culture tilt, rather than just getting more bodies in the room?"
She questioned whether we should be looking at existing models being used to judge success.
"The careers of female academics are often disrupted by life's other priorities – for example, parental leave or to care for parents – and such interruptions can impact their research performance," she said.
"If New Zealand universities continue to measure academic success based on the assumption of a linear, straightforward career path, then any deviations will continue to disadvantage women."
Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said: "We acknowledge we still have quite some distance to go to achieve full parity, but we are making progress."
Universities NZ figures showed that, as of last year, 46.9 per cent of all academic staff were women – but just 38.6 per cent were associate professors, and 27.4 per cent were professors.
That was a slight improvement on 2015's figures, which were 45 per cent, 36 per cent and 24 per cent respectively.
Whelan said universities had been long been aware of the imbalance and collectively had been running a women in leadership programme since 2007 to help academic women aspire to and gain senior positions in universities.
"Individual universities also have a range of networks and professional development opportunities aimed at the same goal.
"Together, these have resulted in a long-term improvement in the proportion of women in senior roles."
Walker's study was co-authored by prominent Kiwi researchers Dr Tara McAllister, Dr Isabelle Sin, Associate Professor Cate Macinnis-Ng and Kate Hannah.
Sin's previous research has found how the average New Zealand female employee earns 84c for every $1 the average man gets paid – and more recently, her work has highlighted how female medical specialists are earning on average 12.5 per cent less.