Israeli Universities to Be Rewarded for Achieving 50% Female Faculty

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Students at the opening of the academic year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2019.
Students at the opening of the academic year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Israel’s colleges and universities will receive incentive funds for meeting targets in promoting women, though not at universities' gender-segregated programs for ultra-Orthodox students.

The plan was approved this week by the country's academic planning committee. The goal is to “equalize the percentage of women in academic staff positions with their numbers in the population.”

Still, the five years budgeted for the plan at an annual cost of 7 million shekels ($2 million) may not be enough to flatten the gender gap.

Data obtained by Haaretz puts the average percentage of men in university research positions at 67.7 percent. The Technion tops this list at 80 percent, with Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University coming in second at around 70 percent.

The University of Haifa at 56 percent is the closest to achieving gender parity.

Still, women in the lowest positions are at 57.4 percent compared with 18.8 percent at the professor level. The numbers are from the 2018-19 academic year and exclude the Open University.

“The improvements made in recent years in the situations of women in academic positions is encouraging, but slow,” the authors of the plan says.

Similar attempts have only been partially successful. These efforts sought to award more scholarships in areas where women are less present such as the hard sciences and engineering. Workshops were established to raise awareness of the difficulties women face in being accepted by universities.

But a source said “there was no way to really test the goals set by the institutions, and more importantly whether they would achieve profound change in the academic gender equation.”

In the new plan, some 60 percent of a special index encompasses the percentage of women at the two highest faculty levels, and the levels at which women are hired compared to those for men. Also, universities and colleges will commit not to drop below the levels of the previous year.

The index categorizes three types of institutions: universities, general colleges and colleges of education. Each type will be measured by its own index.

The plan also seeks to increase the number of women among presidents, rectors and directors general, and on recruitment committees, appointment committees and other key panels. It seeks to allot certain positions for women, and to ensure that events such as pregnancy don’t slow advancement. It also envisions roles such as an adviser for the prevention of sexual harassment.

This month, Ben-Gurion University said it had named an equal number of men and women to its top nominating committee.

Halleli Pinson of Ben-Gurion University’s Education Department has written that women tend to “underestimate themselves, which influences the amount of time they wait to apply for advancement.”

She also mentions “life circumstances for women and the social expectations of them to bear all the burdens of raising children, especially during a period that overlaps with a transition to senior lecturer or professor.” A third explanation is women’s tendency “to take upon themselves less rewarding roles within an organization.”

To qualify for part of the program’s annual budget of 7 million shekels, institutions will have to choose categories and draw up plans to improve their current situation.

But the plan is being implemented amid increasing gender segregation in tracks for ultra-Orthodox students. A few years ago, this gender separation was said to be a temporary measure or an interim step.

But the phenomenon also narrows women’s employment options, as they are not permitted to teach men. The new plan does not address this issue.

Also, debates about whether absolute parity is a desirable goal will probably intensify under the new plan.

A math professor at Tel Aviv University wrote in a chat that he’s all for “gender fairness, but this doesn’t mean the numbers of men and women must be the same in every significant forum. Such an approach does injustice to both men and women. You can’t rectify decades or centuries of injustice.”

A chemistry professor at Hebrew University wrote that he hopes the institution continues promoting staff based solely on their qualifications. A female psychology professor retorted that no such basis exists, and a female professor in social work at Ben-Gurion added: “The glass ceiling is alive and well.”

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