Gender Equality Annual Report 2019

Compared to previous years, I am pleased to see that this year the UGII (University Gender Inequality Index) – the tool that measures the progress of gender equality within the University – shows a slight improvement. However, there are still too many reasons for concern and dissatisfaction. Firstly, and most importantly, talent loss. Anyone who takes the time to read carefully this document will find that it contains conflicting data. Despite the fact that more female than male students enrol in first cycle degree programmes, and that female students obtain better final grades in three-year first cycle degrees, have greater propensity to mobility and international exchange opportunities and lower abandon rates, why do their enrolment numbers drop in most of our second cycle degrees programmes? Why is the female gender so under-represented in certain areas, particularly STEM degree programmes, even though female students who choose these programmes obtain excellent results? And why are so few male students enrolled in humanities programmes, particularly in those that prepare for the so-called caring professions? If female students on average complete their study career with higher grades, what flaws in our system allow to create the pay gaps we see one, three and five years after graduation? Why do more male than female students apply for PhD programmes? Can we really claim to be immune to popular stereotypes and prejudices? Or do we contribute every day, maybe unconsciously, to spreading and perpetrating deep-rooted models and formulas, simply because we are accustomed to them, while sacrificing female talent to the detriment of the entire community?

There is another reason for concern, which I would define not so much a loss of talent but failure to appreciate and value it. I am referring to gender distribution in university careers: the Gender Equality Report shows that at entry level there is almost no difference between men and women, however, moving upwards towards more senior positions, the inequality gap grows revealing a situation that hugely penalises women and ultimately all of us. This begs the question of whether the recruitment system that continues to reward predominantly men in the role of Full Professors reflects a real difference in merit. Do we really think that in the world of research, as experience and responsibility increase, men are the better suited than women? Statistical reasons alone are enough to conclude that this is not the case. Despite the politically correct positions we are all quick to take, we must ask ourselves whether it is more likely that the gap is the result of long-established social customs (especially the fact that care roles are not equally shared by men and women) and deeply-rooted cultural prejudices.

To address the loss of talent we need to start talking to our young people, possibly even before they reach our lecture rooms. Establishing closer connections with schools, focusing on a broader critical approach, offering equality of opportunity and equality of choice, free from outdated and unproductive social and economic rules. To compensate for the low number of women with university careers, we must start by committing to a recruitment process free of prejudice and preconceptions. Over the next few months, we will be making important decisions, selecting a considerable number of fixed-term researchers. In a few years’ time, these new researchers will become assistant professors and the future senior roles of our university’s teaching community will be chosen among them. It is a crucial strategic moment: we must aim for change because we deserve it as people, because appreciating differences is the only way to keep improving, because talent must not be wasted.

Francesco Ubertini
Alma Mater Studiorum - Università di Bologna