How bad is Durham’s subject gender bias?

By and

Information available on Durham University’s website from the 2019/20 academic year reveals significant differences in gender bias across Durham faculties and departments.

The data included all Durham students, whether undergraduate, postgraduate (taught and research), as well as distance learning. 

Of Durham’s 19,342 students, over 54% are women. However, within the different faculties, the gender bias varies significantly. 

The proportion of women to men across Arts and Humanities and sciences is directly reversed, with 61% of arts students being female and 61% of science students male. 

The greatest disparity on a faculty level is in the Social Sciences and Health, where 64% of students are female. 

Within the Arts and Humanities faculty, all departments have more female students except philosophy, where 54% of students are male. The most significant gender gap is in English, where over 80% of students are female. 

Typically across the science faculty, department gender biases are more significant.

77% of physics students are male, while women make up just 27% of students in Maths and just 19% of Engineers.

Two subjects – Biosciences and Psychology – buck the trend. 80% of Psychology students are female, while female students make up 63% of biosciences intake. 

In Social Sciences and Health, similar disparities were evident. Over 78% of students in Sociology are female, while in Archaeology there are exactly double the number of female students as male. The most significant disparity was in Education, where over 83% of students were female. 

The full data set can be accessed here. (https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/student.registry/statistics/summary/1.4gender/191-4.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3-kN24723IVxHGC6P0vkE9bWlqidkTXeTF_si57u2JvrirzgDIR-p5Im4)

In response to the findings, Professor Alan Houston, Vice-Provost (Education) at Durham University said: “At Durham, we aim to attract the brightest and best students with the merit and potential to succeed here, regardless of their gender.

“We know that diversity enriches our environment and we actively encourage access to all our programmes across all protected characteristics.

“The gender profiles observed in departments reflect the applicant pools. The key to addressing these imbalances is to begin at an early age, creating opportunities for young people to develop the full range of their talents and abilities.

Professor Alan Houston, Vice-Provost (Education)

“Through vibrant outreach programmes and powerful role models, students are inspired to come to Durham. Once here, we seek to ensure an inclusive learning community in which all have the opportunity to thrive.  

“This is a virtuous circle: as our graduates become more diverse, so too will our applicants. All will see Durham as a place to excel.”

Of the 29 subjects offered at Durham, four have active outreach programmes to address gender bias: Chemistry, Computer Sciences, Maths and Physics. 

The Physics Department has acknowledged that “Gender and unconscious bias are of huge importance in physics, due to the low level of female participation at all levels, and the so called ‘leaky pipeline’ that leads to lower female participation as you move from undergraduates through to professorial level.”

As a result, the department has committed to: “seek[ing] to promote and maintain an inclusive and supportive work and study environment that respects the dignity of staff and students, regardless of their gender or gender identity”.

The Engineering Department “runs an Inspire outreach course for 15-16 year old girls who have an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths”. The course “delivers a combination of technical projects alongside soft skills sessions”.The Maths Department supports the LMS Good Practice Scheme, which aims to “advance women’s careers in university mathematics departments” and which helps Math departments “to embed equal opportunities for women within their working practices.”

Indeed, the Department has acknowledged that the reasons why fewer women chose the subject could be because of “the paucity of female role models”, “the perception that mathematics is not a feminine pursuit”, “the lack of knowledge of careers opened to mathematicians” and “the fear of being unable to reconcile motherhood with a very competitive academic environment in mathematics”.

The Computer Science Department has also launched a Women in Tech scholarship

No other department, including the subjects with a higher proportion of females to males, has information addressing gender bias on their department website.

The University has, however, recognised “that barriers exist to the recruitment and retention of female staff, such as a lack of flexible working opportunities across all grades and levels, candidate pools not representative of the wider, global community in which we work, as well as a leaky pipeline. 

“Where possible, we are working to remove these and other barriers by changing the way we engage, recruit and progress staff across the university.”

Consequently, they are “now looking at ways to reduce the gender pay gap through supporting women to more senior roles.’ This comes as earlier this year, staff at the university went on strike, demanding that no longer will ‘women staff experience significant pay discrimination”.

NB: these figures do not include those who do not identify as either male or female. 

Image: Photo Monkey via Creative Commons

8 thoughts on “How bad is Durham’s subject gender bias?

  • The only bias I can see is your particular highlighting of male dominated fields (I wonder why..).

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