THE gender gap in universities persists, despite some progress in recent years. The number of women professors remains low with the picture particularly stark in male-dominated disciplines such as engineering.

The issues facing universities are similar to those in other sectors, where gender disparities exist. My own research has shown that universities in the UK often rely on extensive working hours, with many academics working into the evenings and weekends.

Long working hours can have detrimental effects on health and well-being for all workers, however, the effects are greater for those with caring responsibilities.

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Across the UK we still see caring responsibilities falling predominately on women. Women academics with children can experience difficulties balancing the competing roles of caregiver and of an academic with responsibility for teaching and research.

Within my own research, women academics in Scotland have said they are focussed on keeping their heads above water, rather than doing the things they feel are necessary for promotion.

Women also often find themselves undertaking a greater share of student support roles in universities, leaving less time for research which is less more likely to be rewarded in promotion discussions.

Career progression and pay rises in universities are often much quicker for those who are able to move institutions or even migrate to other countries.

International mobility can be more difficult for those with caring responsibilities, and those who require care, for example academics with long term health problems.

Again, we can that women are more likely, than men, to be affected by constraints on their mobility and this immobility has been proposed as a reason for the minimal gains in the proportion of women in senior positions in universities.

Men’s greater mobility has also been used to explain the gender pay gap, men are more likely to move universities and therefore be in a position to negotiate their pay.

This coupled with men’s dominance in areas where large amounts of research funding are available, e.g. engineering, can be seen as contributing factors to gender gaps in seniority and pay.

Universities are making steps to create more gender equal workplaces. Initiatives such as the Athena Swan award aim to create structural and cultural change in universities, for example, the inclusion of career breaks into promotion procedures and ensuring key meetings are not set for times which clash with nursery or school runs.

More work is needed however. The number of women of colour in senior positions in UK universities is very low and more work is needed to understand how disability affects men and women’s university careers.

While the picture in Scotland would be similar in other countries, more proactive work is required for our universities to lead on gender equality.

Ensuring that the work of women in recognised in promotion and pay discussions will start to overcome gender and progression gaps. By removing gender disparities, universities can start to be more reflective of the students and communities we serve, and model a more gender inclusive and equal society.

Kate Sang is professor of gender and employment studies at Heriot Watt University