Most of the people in the research group are on contracts, which means their salaries come from bodies outside the universities, such as research councils. Their job security only extends for the duration of their contract, which might be as short as six months. For some, a succession of contracts constitutes a career. Contract researchers are often excluded from other academic employee benefits, such as maternity leave, and are not always well-integrated into departmental life. The contract research sector, which now contains about a third of full-time academics, is the growth area in British universities, shooting up from around 5000 in 1972 to 14,000 in the late 1980s (2).
Do women in the traditional career lines fare any better? In Britain, the lectureship is the so-called career grade. Above this in rank are readerships and senior lectureships, different from one another on promotion criteria but equivalent on salary scale. Readerships and senior lectureships are usually internal promotions, with a restricted number available each year in each institution. The selection is meant to be based on merit, yet because of greater numbers wanting promotion than can receive it, candidates are voted upon and ranked, usually by committees of professors or deans. In effect, a candidate goes through a series of competitions at departmental, faculty, and university-wide levels.
A small proportion of British academics achieve the rank of professor. Professorships can be internal appointments but are more often nationally advertised. There are rarely more than one or two in a department and apart from a small number of ''personal chairs", more can be hired only when a position is vacant. The system does not seem to favor women, as table 1 shows. Among men, 15.2% are professors and 29.3% senior lecturers or readers; among women, 3.2% are professors and 16.4% readers or senior lecturers.
In Canadian universities women are also under-represented in higher ranks, and there is the same tendency for women to be disproportionately located in contractually-limited appointments and part-time positions, which cannot be discerned from the published statistics (3). But once in the tenure track, Canadian women's chances of advancing to middle levels are greater than those of their counterparts in Britain (table 2). Slightly over a third of each sex are associate professors. The difference in Canada comes at the full professor rank which is held by about 13% of the women and 40% of the men. The use of a competitive promotion procedure in British universities, together with minimal commitment from the government to redressing gender inequities, may produce the contrast with the Canadian situation.
Figures such as those in tables 1 and 2 tell us what proportion of each sex reaches a given academic rank. They give us an indication of career chances for each sex. Our other option is to show the relative proportions of each rank that are held by women and men. The two options give us different information. If women are severely under-represented in the population as a whole, then even if most were to rise to the top level they would remain only a small proportion of that level. Tables 3 and 4 show the figures arranged accordingly.
These figures give us an idea of what the outside world (or the students and others in the institution, for mat matter) sees. Table 3 shows that nearly all professors in Britain are men and mat men hold me vast majority of other senior positions. We see me same trend for the Canadian figures (table 4) but again, it is less exaggerated. The impact of me imbalance on British academic life is extreme, especially when combined with tendencies towards hierarchy and elitism still found within many of me universities. Professors in British universities are me people who head departments, represent me university to the government, serve on working parties, act as external examiners and make hiring and promotion decisions. In many universities the numbers of women professors can literally be counted on the fingers of one hand, while the men number in the hundreds.