Knocking on the glass ceiling

Although female students have outnumbered their male counterparts for decades, male professors still rule the roost in academia

When the University of Calgary announced last week that engineering dean Elizabeth Cannon would be its next president, the appointment was widely applauded. Cannon — who is by all accounts an excellent scholar and administrator — will be UCalgary’s very first female president in its 43-year history. Both major universities in Alberta are now headed by women. 

“This sends the message that anything is possible,” Anne Katzenberg, an archeology professor and former women’s issues advisor, told the Calgary Herald.

Hurray! Right?

Considering that the number of female university students overtook the number of male students way back in 1988, why is the appointment of a female president being praised as a milestone in 2010? Women accounted for nearly 60 per cent of post-secondary students in 2009 and the gender gap is continuing to grow. However, when it comes to who is standing in front of the classroom, men still overwhelmingly dominate.

In the past few decades, universities have taken considerable steps towards hiring and pay parity. Nevertheless, male professors with tenure still vastly outnumber female professors, they are paid more than their female counterparts and they are more likely to be promoted to senior positions. It seems that no matter how many more women than men graduate from our universities, men continue to reign in the upper echelons of the ivory tower.

Among the lower ranks of professors there are nearly as many female professors as male professors. For example, in 2006-07 there were slightly more female lecturers than male, according to Statistics Canada. But look at higher ranks—full, associate and assistant professor—and the gender gap widens. Only 20 per cent of full professors were women in 2006-07, and women made up only 33 per cent of all professors.

Last week’s release of Ontario’s Public Salary Disclosure—popularly known as the “Sunshine List”—further illustrated how the number of women declines in the upper ranks of universities. While salaries are nearing parity in the lower ranks, men vastly outnumber women in high paying upper administration jobs. For example, 413 men working for universities in Ontario make in excess of $200,000 (including benefits) while only 115 women are members of the $200,000-plus club.

High profile examples of top paid female university administrators exist; University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera was the highest paid university president in the country in 2008 with compensation over $620,000. Uof C’s Cannon will also take her place among the best paid university administrators in Canada; her contract includes a base salary of $430,000, an “annual incentive payment” valued up to 20 per cent of her base salary, a car allowance of $16,000 and other benefits.

Ontario’s top female earner in 2009 was Tina Dacin, director of corporate social responsibility at Queen’s School of Business, who was paid over $475,000 including benefits. Roseann Runte, Carleton’s president, was the highest female president with compensation over $400,000. She ranked fourth after Carole Stephenson, dean of the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western, who earned $405,000. Interestingly, the fifth top paid woman doesn’t even work at an Ontario university any more; Lorna Marsden, former president of York University who stepped down in 2007, netted $396,567.00.

Click here to view details on all women earning more than $200,000 at Ontario universities.

For more coverage of university salaries, see The high cost of status

and Hey administrators. Quit your job, earn big bucks

Despite these examples, women account for only about 30 per cent of administrative positions, according to a 2005 survey conducted by Karen Grant for the Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada. Also, on average women continue to make less than men at every level of employment at universities. In 2006-07, the median salary for female university professors was $113,450 while men earned an average of $119,725, according to Statistics Canada. Women with senior administrative duties earned an average of $123,400 while their male counterparts earned $128,300.

A historical look at women in academia shows that while the number female students has steadily grown for decades, the percentage of female professors has not followed suit. Janice Drakich and Penni Stewart, associate professors at Windsor and York respectively, wrote in a 2007 paper that the number of women in the professoriate “has moved only glacially” in the past four decades.

In the February 2007 issue of Academic Matters Drakich and Stewart argue that women continue to be underrepresented in academic life. This under-representation was first given national attention when the 1970 Royal Commission Report on the Status of Women highlighted that in 1967 only 34 per cent of students and 13 per cent of professors were women.

The gender gap persisted through the 1970s and by 1980-81 women still only accounted for five per cent of full professors and 15 per cent of all faculty members. A decade later women made up eight per cent of full professors and 20 per cent of all professors. This slow growth continued during the next two decades; in 2000-01, 15 per cent of full professors and 28 per cent of all professors were women and by 2006-07 those numbers had grown to 20 per cent and 33 per cent.

This slow narrowing of the gender gap in Canadian universities may seem like sufficient progress, but hiring and promotion trends show that women still face considerable barriers. Between 1999 and 2004, universities appointed nearly 15,000 fulltime faculty but only 39 per cent were women. Drakich and Stewart point out that, surprisingly, women were appointed to only 40 per cent of professorships in the social sciences. “Given that women have exceeded men in doctoral enrolment and PhDs awarded in the social sciences since 1997, their under-representation in the new appointments is both puzzling and disturbing,” they wrote.

Women are also disadvantaged when it comes to promotion. Drakich and Stewart’s analysis of universities from 1984 to 1999 suggests that the median time for promotion from associate to full professor for women is about a year longer than for men.