Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Professor Margaret Linehan and Professor Irene Sheridan of CIT. Picture Dan Linehan

There are two new female professors at CIT — the highest title an academic can achieve. MARIA ROLSTON talks to the women about their new appointments, tackling gender inequality in the workplace, and the importance of role models for younger generations

IT’s almost 20 years since Professor Margaret Linehan published her first research book on gender inequality in the workplace and not much has changed since then for women in senior management, she says.

Professor Linehan, along with Professor Irene Sheridan, became one of Cork Institute of Technology’s only two female professors last month when 13 members of academic staff were designated as professors — the highest title an academic can achieve.

It’s the first time that CIT has made professorship designations, which recognise not only the individual’s academic work but their international standing and contribution to the academic activities of the institute as well.

The designation requires a rigorous application and external assessment process and while both Margaret and Irene say they’re delighted with their appointments, the fact that only two of the 13 new professors are women reflects the ongoing imbalance facing women in higher education and senior management today.

“My first book was titled, Senior Female International Managers: Why So few? That was the question 20 years ago and we’re still talking about the same issue today,” said Prof Linehan, who is Head of CIT’s School of Humanities. Margaret, from Macroom, lives on the Model Farm Road.

“We’re delighted with our promotions, we worked very hard to get them and we’re very proud of the titles, though we’re still not used to them yet!” she laughed.

“But the title of professor is very important to us. It’s important in terms of recognition of our work, here and internationally, and it’s important to our students because it will give them more confidence in us and our work and they’ll be able to look at us as female role models,” she said.

“I’ve done a lot of research in this area and I’ve written about it extensively and really, to succeed as a woman, you have to work twice as hard. You have to be twice as good.

“As a woman, you have to put yourself out there and put yourself forward. There’s still very much an ‘old boys’ network when it comes to things like interview panels and senior level positions. It’s alive and kicking everywhere, not just in CIT.

“There’s also a self-imposed glass ceiling, that one of my students has written about, where a lot of women don’t put themselves forward for promotion because they think there’s no point, they think that the men won’t let them into the network.

“But since we got promoted, a lot of younger women have said that it’s great for them, because now they know that women can get promoted and rise to professorship level. We’ve given a lot of young female academics hope.

“It’s also important to say that as female academics, we have never wanted to be promoted for our gender. We wanted to be promoted for our work and our contribution to research, knowledge and academia and that’s why the professorship titles are so important to us,” she said.

Likewise, Professor Sheridan, who lives in Waterfall, who is Head of CIT’s Extended Campus and is responsible for the unit that acts as an interface between CIT and external enterprise groups, said that it’s important to recognise their promotion and designation as professors “in the context of the gender equality and pay disparity” in higher education.

“It is important to us that we have been promoted for our work and not because of our gender but the reality is that within the entire Higher Education sector here [in Ireland] at lecturer level, there is [a balance] of almost 50% men and women. But at senior management level, it’s only 25% women, and it’s no better in CIT.

“The reach of women professors across the board in higher education is only 19% and some sectors are a lot worse. If you look at the engineering sector, it’s appalling. There are so few women at senior level.

“So we have to ask, where do the women go? If it’s 50% women at lecturer level and only 19% at professor level, we have to ask, why?”

Prof Sheridan, who studied electronic engineering at University College Galway before doing a Masters in Telecommunications Engineering at CIT, worked for Apple for ten years before moving into academia and later completed a Phd in Change Management and Higher Education. She says she has had first hand experience of gender-based pay discrimination within higher education, the effects of which she’s still living with today.

She left her full-time job with Apple, which required a lot of travel, after her second, now adult, child was born because he was frequently ill in early childhood and hospitalised often.

During that time she worked part time in both UCC and CIT but was affected by a pay deficit when she returned to full-time work.

“When I went to work full-time in CIT, because I had worked part time in the previous four years, even though the job I applied for required five years workplace experience, I started at the bottom of the pay scale and the salary that I’d had in Apple was never taken into account. So I’ve carried that pay deficit with me through my entire professional life and will until my retirement. That’s the place there is for women in higher education. There’s a disparity of pay and it’s a very real, ‘hit you in the pocket’ disparity.

“It’s not just my own story, I’ve come across the same situation with women who’ve spent years building careers and building up research expertise who are then penalised when they take time out of work.

“This country really doesn’t look after women. It’s 40 years since the marriage ban was lifted and we all want women in the workforce but we still haven’t put a structure in place that allows women to take some time out but that won’t punish you for the rest of you life.”

Prof Sheridan said that another issue facing women in higher education is that despite regulations requiring gender balance on interview panels, an imbalance often persists and there is no mentoring for younger women because there’s so few women at the top.

“Every interview panel in the Institution has to have a gender balance yet in the vast majority of those panels, in engineering and many other sectors, the female that’s on that panel is a representative of the governing body and not a discipline scientist. They’re more or less the token female and there are no female mentors or role models at senior management or professor level. Over what length of time can we rectify the impact of the marriage ban and the notion of men in suits as the decision makers? Forty years is too slow,” she said.

Both women said that the culture of organisations needs to change in order to address and eradicate gender issues.

“I’ve been researching this area for 20 years and it’s the same things coming up over and over again,” said Prof Linehan. “There’s a lack of female mentors and a lack of female role models and that’s internationally, it’s not just here.

“It’s not about policy making. It’s about changing the culture within organisations and breaking down organisational culture is one of the hardest things to do.”

While both ladies say their success is down to hard work and time management, they strongly believe too in enjoying life. Margaret runs every day and loves meeting up with friends, doing whatever charity work she can and going on holidays, and Irene is currently learning to ride a motorbike!


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