SCOTTISH universities are lagging behind the rest of the UK in the proportion of female academics who are given professorships.

New figures show just 23.7 per cent of professors at Scottish universities are women, despite the fact they make up 44 per cent of the academic workforce.

The figure is just over four percentage points better than the situation in 2010/11 when 18.3 per cent of professors were female, but in the UK as a whole a quarter of professors are women.

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Case study: The journey to professor is ‘easier for a man in a suit

The situation has been blamed on a number of factors including entrenched attitudes of gender stereotyping.

Concerns also centre of a culture of long working hours, inflexible terms and conditions and pressures on researchers to produce academic papers which can be incompatible with family responsibilities.

Mary Senior, UCU Scotland Official, said the small progress in the percentage of women in senior roles in universities was welcome, but “painfully slow”.

She said: “The figures again show that the lack of career progression for women academics is a real problem, both for the women themselves but also for our universities who miss out on the qualities women can bring to these senior roles.

“Around half of all academic positions in higher education are held by women, so for over three-quarters of professors to be male underlines the scale of the problem.

“Universities need to urgently address the root causes of inequality and make senior academic careers compatible with children, family and other caring commitments.”

Case study: The journey to professor is ‘easier for a man in a suit

Ms Senior called for institutions to address higher education’s long hours culture, workloads and ever growing demands to publish work.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland, which represents principals, said the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed the sector was on the right course for fair gender representation.

He said: “There’s been a 39 per cent increase of female professors over the last five years compared to the overall rate of 13 per cent, but that pace will need to continue for some years to even out.

“Universities have put in place schemes to ensure that male or females are not overrepresented in certain roles and this is seen through almost every Scottish university taking part in Aurora, a women-only leadership development programme.”

However, Shuwanna Aaron, woman’s officer for student body NUS Scotland, said the figures were disappointing.

She said: “It has been another year of slow progress in improving the representation of women in senior academic positions.

“Women in senior academic positions have a key role to play in breaking down stereotypes and tackling gender imbalances that continue to exist in particular subjects.

“Universities must reflect on the cultural barriers which prevent women progressing, and how we can overcome these.”

Talat Yaqoob, director of Equate Scotland, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of women in science and engineering, also called for more concerted action from universities.

She said: “These figures, whilst unsurprising, are deeply disappointing and speak to what we already know about aspects of the culture across academia including long hours, inflexibility and a biased culture.

“The number of women lecturers and professors in science, engineering and technology subjects is even lower and reveals the need for bolder action on gender equality which genuinely challenges the current culture.

“Right now, universities in Scotland are losing out on the expertise and experience of women, either by them not being promoted despite having the merit, or by them leaving the sector all together. Change is long overdue.”

Case study: The journey to professor is ‘easier for a man in a suit

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has already urged universities to increase gender equality on campus.

In 2015, universities pledged to have a minimum 40 per cent female representation on their governing bodies after claims of a glass ceiling preventing women taking the top jobs.