In Nearly Half of Israel’s Universities, Only 20% of Faculty Are Women

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Researchers at Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
Researchers at Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.Credit: Moti Milrod

Female faculty members are underrepresented in many Israeli university departments, according to a new Science and Technology Ministry study. The situation is particularly dire in the fields of mathematics, statistics and computer science, where 93 percent of departments suffer from underrepresentation.

Chief Scientist Prof. Nurit YirmiyaCredit: Yoav Dudkevitz

The study revealed that in 37 percent of university departments at eight Israeli universities, the number of women on staff is fewer than 20 percent or that there is only one senior female faculty member.

The situation in science departments is poor, with underrepresentation in 74 percent of physics departments, 72 percent of engineering departments and 41 percent of biology departments.

Humanities departments are also affected, with women underrepresented in 52 percent of them. In social science departments, meanwhile, 22 percent lack sufficient representation of women on faculty.

The study also revealed that some university departments do not have a single senior female faculty member. For example, among the 24 members of one university’s space engineering department, only one is female. And in another university’s electrical engineering department, out of 32 faculty members there is only one woman. There are 27 such departments throughout the university system, including fields of study such as archaeology, Israel studies, Middle Eastern studies, Jewish thought, classics, art, and more.

The problem also affects the economics sphere. At two universities, with 12 and 21 faculty members in their economics departments, respectively, each department includes just one female faculty member.

The study also showed that many fields of study considered to be “feminine” experience far less female underrepresentation. For example, there are no medical assistant departments in which women are underrepresented on faculty, and only 7 percent of education departments experience the issue. In the fields of languages, literature and regional studies, only 7 percent of departments are lacking in female representation, and only 8 percent of art departments.

The ministry assessed the situation at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Bar-Ilan University, The University of Haifa, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ariel University, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, and the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot.

The study was conducted by the ministry’s Council For Advancement Of Women In Science and Technology, headed by Prof. Nurit Yirmiya, chief scientist at the ministry.

Earlier studies have shown that the higher the faculty rank (lecturer, senior lecturer, associate professor, full professor), the less women fill those positions. During the 2011-2012 academic year, for example, only 16 percent of all full professors were women, despite the fact that more women finish PhD studies than men in every field.

The Science and Technology Ministry refused to acknowledge which departments at which universities are lacking female representation. After Haaretz requested the information, a ministry representative said that revealing specific data would hinder university participation in future studies. However, refusing to provide the information gives rise to questions about the goals of the study – aside from using the data for internal purposes – if the specific universities are not revealed and, therefore, not subject to public pressure.

“It’s like a vicious cycle,” Prof. Yirmiya said, talking about the results. “The lower amount of women sends the message that a career in academia is a male realm, while research has proven that there is an unconscious gender imbalance at the universities. This prevents women from applying for positions due to a mistaken belief that they have no chance.” She suggests solving the problem by setting “realistic recruitment goals for universities to proactively hire women, including approaching them directly.”

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