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.


Knocking on the glass ceiling

  1. I’m not sure what your point is here. That women get paid less and get promoted less? That’s nothing new.

    Why don’t you write a serious analysis about WHY this happens, and then propose methods to rectify it?

    I’m surprised there was no mention of the CRC program, which also has a history of selecting men over women.

  2. Perhaps because a magazine reporter doesn’t have the time or the resources to do an analysis on the scale that’s needed to answer “why” questions?

    Perhaps you could suggest what type of analysis a reporter could do within the given the time and resource constraints they face?

  3. I’m sure that none of these things could be explained by the fact that the upper echelons of academia are largely dominated by people in their 50s or 60s who, by and large, were educated at a time when there were very few women in academia. Clearly, the only reason for the differences must be discrimination, not the huge difference in aggregate experience between the genders.

  4. ArtOfThought: A little bitter? A reporter should have time to call up the experts and ask them. The point is there is no analysis at all in this article, just a blunt presentation of facts that we’ve all been hearing for 20 years.

    At the very least, the reporter could acknowledge why they’re not covering the real story here.

  5. From my experience as a female student at university, the women professors I have had were horrible. I don’t know why, but they don’t have the same natural ability to teach that male professors do. Also stop with the poor me, Im a women and men rule the world attitude. With that attitude you won’t get anywhere and you’re just making women the victim. That doesn’t help.One of the reasons you find men in top positions is because they have been working longer than women. You cannot expect to get paid the same amount as someone who has contributed 30 years to a university, with research and teaching if you’ve been teaching for 10. Stop making this an issue, eventually more women will hold the top positions, but we need time. Also all the women professors I’ve had go on crazy power trips, they don’t know how to deal with being in that position.

  6. Well MacFan, if all the female profs you had were terrible, then that settles it. Obviously male profs are just universally better than female profs, and women have failed to reach the heights of academia because we women just suck worse than men do.

    That doesn’t explain the astonishingly crappy male profs that are out there. Nor does it explain the exceptional women academics I’ve come across, but what the heck? Who needs critical thinking when you can just be critical? Why investigate a situation when you can just decide that no problem exists, so there? It’s not like you have an education or anything. Oh wait …

  7. MacFan, you’re obviously just a troll. I doubt you ever had any higher education experience.

    Your argument is a common but false one. Females starting at the same time with the same level will be paid less than men. This is a fact. Most universities recognize it and have committees set up to have gender-pay rebalances addressed periodically. They consistently find that women doing just as well as men end up being paid less.

    I have a feeling you’re the kind of girl who mooned over her male professors.

    When you have some real-life experience of the sort that gets discussed here, feel free to come back and make a proper argument.

  8. MacSucks, Sorry to tell you again, but the female professors I have a had were horrible. In addition to not having any presentation skills and reading off slides/papers, they also tend to bash white men in most of their lectures. Lucky for you, you clearly have had a better exprience with female professors, so lets just leave it at that. I have written many complaints about the crappy selection of female professors, while that makes me feel better I know nothing will be done because the school has to meet a female quota.The truth hurts. The same problem occurs when I have to learn from preofessors who cannot speak English. What joy that is:)

  9. Has anyone ever thought about the other factors that contribute to pay, like…negotiating on the part of the employee? I am not inclined to believe that the gender gap is always based on gender alone. There are so many top universities and departments headed by women in this country. How about the fact that men are 50% more likely to to ask for pay increases when settling into a new job? Is it unfair to say that factors such as these can contribute to discrepancies in pay?


  10. Statistics probably don’t tell the full story.

    There are more men in economics, engineering, math, architecture, computer science etc. and more women in the arts.

    The private sector has a huge demand for technical skills like engineering, and far less demand for historians, sociologists and anthropologists.

    Considering the law of supply and demand, you’d expect there to be upward pressure on the salaries of professors whose expertise is more in demand in the private world.

    And that would easily explain why women professors make less on average. They’re just far far more likeley to be in undervalued fields of study.

    Trust me, I have a history degree and a journalism degree. It’s fact of life that I will never make what an engineer or computer scientist makes. A fact I accept.

    I would be shocked if women engineering profs made less than male engineering profs, or if women sociology profs made less than male sociology profs. Until I see that, I don’t believe there’s a glass ceiling.

  11. Actually, Josh, this is precisely the case. Women in equivalent positions make less. It’s a fact.

  12. MacSucks: please reference some statistics for your claim. Josh’s argument makes sense and reflects the way faculty are distributed at my school.

  13. Josh, given that supply far outweighs demand when it comes to virtually all post-secondary teaching/research posts, I find it unlikely that your explanation works in this context. Unless we’re talking about a rare case in which there are fewer qualified profs than there are teaching positions for the subject (I can’t think of one), nobody needs to pay profs more to take teaching posts. If that were the case, they’d ALL be getting paid more. These days, anybody enrolled in a PhD program who has teaching aspirations is just praying that ANY job opens up.

  14. David: See the AUCC report.

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