A male law professor mentioned to me recently that in his experience, if you just do your work, and do it well, then your career will progress – rewards will flow. I was somewhat taken aback by this statement and pointed out that this certainly was not my own experience, and was unlikely to be the experience of many women in academia. Indeed, I suspect this is not the case in any profession.
It got me thinking about the makeup of Australian law schools. We currently have many women law deans around the country – though I do note that some are punching above their weight, holding the role of dean at a substantive position lower than professor. The law school is a feminised work force in many respects – women are highly visible in so many law schools. However I suspect that this is because women form the bulk of our casualised workforce, teaching sessionally.
I wondered though about the makeup of the professoriate. With so many women – and so many capable women – one might expect that there would be equality in the upper ranks of the law school. Let’s see if the numbers bear this out.
I searched the websites of the Australian law schools to count the number of ‘permanent’ academic staff in each law school. This is a little harder than it sounds. But here are the parameters of my rough and ready search:
- I included all law schools that had a staff page – 36 in all.
- I categorised staff from level A to E:
- A – associate lecturer or equivalent
- B – lecturer or equivalent
- C – senior lecturer or equivalent
- D – associate professor
- E – professor, including emeritus or distinguished professor
- I only included staff who appeared not to be sessional ie on fixed term contracts or permanent.
- Staff who were associate dean with no other designation, I nominated them as level D.
- For business and law schools, I included anyone designated simply ‘lecturer’ and ‘lecturer, law’, but excluded anyone designated as an academic in another discipline eg criminology or business.
- I did not include teaching only positions, or research only positions.
I worked out total men and total women in each law school. I calculated the male professors and female professors as a percentage of the total staff; and I calculated the proportion of women staff who were professors and the proportion of men staff who were professors, and noted the difference in percentage points between each figure: ie, whether there was a greater proportion of male professors than female professors, and what that difference was.
I acknowledge that the method has something to be desired, but it is intended only to gain a snapshot, an indication of the gender spread of academics within law schools.
I divided the law schools into three categories.
Green law schools are those with a difference in the proportion of male to female professors that was less than 10 percentage points. Some of these were in the negative – the proportion of women academics who were professor was greater than the proportion of men academics who were professor. There were 15 in this category.
In the orange category were those law schools where the proportion of male academics who were professor exceeded the proportion of female academics who were professor, by between 10 and 20 percentage points. There were 7 in this category.
This category represents those law schools where the proportion of male academics who are professor exceeds the proportion of female academics who are professor, by greater than 20 percentage points. Almost on par with the green category, there were 14 law schools in this range – although the range was far wider than that for green, with a spread of nearly 50 percentage points.
There is likely to be a wide range of reasons for the discrepancies between the proportion of male law academics who are professors, and female law academics who are professors. There is further analysis warranted also to distinguish between larger institutions and smaller ones, between newer institutions and more established institutions, and between regional and metropolitan institutions. It is also relevant to examine the pipeline of academics. (A preliminary view of this data shows for the most part, a ‘bulge’ of women academics at senior lecturer level – but that is for another time.)
It is, however, worth considering the effect of a maldistribution of higher ranking positions as between male and female academics, on the culture of a workplace. For law schools, this culture is relevant not only in terms of those who work there, but also for the message it sends to students about seniority and expertise, and possibly even about the operation of the law.
The real question is – what will universities, and law deans, do about this?