A few years ago Professor Abigail Marks was in a university undergraduate office picking up her post when a male colleague handed her a pile of papers and asked her to photocopy them by the afternoon.

This experience of sexism is just one of a number of examples Dr Marks can point to in her successful career.

"He just never anticipated that I was an academic and he never actually apologised when he found out I wasn't a secretary," she said.

Even the announcement of her professorship was marred by a sexist incident.

"I was coming back from giving a lecture and one of my colleagues stopped me in the corridor and congratulated me on my pregnancy, but then he said it was "convenient" because I had just got my promotion.

"I was baffled to start off with and then pretty upset. Anyone that knows me would know that is preposterous."

Currently Professor of Work and Employment Studies at the Department of Business Management at Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh, Dr Marks believes there is still a prevailing image of an academic as a middle-aged, middleclass man.

She said: "Women are given poorer feedback by students even with comparative quality of delivery and tend to have more complaints from students. A man is an academic, whereas a woman is a "female" academic.

"There are few senior female role models. Those that have made it often behave in a very masculine manner and are frequently childless. There is this perception of self-sacrifice with being an academic and is almost viewed as a calling rather than a job. It is really hard to live up to this and even harder when you have a family.

A single mother, Dr Marks spends much of her spare time in the evenings and weekends working to keep up.

"It is important to go to conferences, to be able to take on visiting posts and to be mobile, which is hard with children," she said.

"It is not only having to worry about childcare, but if you want to travel with children it is expensive and conferences usually don't have childcare and for longer periods you have to think about uprooting your child.

"A lot of work happens in social arenas outside work which just isn't possible for many and actually often not desirable. Mind you, even when you get your chair you still have to face the gender pay gap which is, I think, about 28 per cent at professorial level."

Heriot-Watt principal Professor Richard Williams said: "We are committed to address gender inequality in higher education and the university has recently been awarded three awards from the Athena Swan scheme which recognises the commitment of organisations in this field.

"All of our schools have my support in tackling these issues and making Heriot-Watt a place where all people can truly thrive."

Dr Marks's comment came as new figures showed Scottish universities have made no progress in smashing the glass ceiling for female academics in the past year.

Statistics collected by the Herald show just 22 per cent of professors at Scottish universities are women, despite the fact they make up 45 per cent of the academic workforce.

Although the proportion is marginally better than the previous year the change has been driven by a slight reduction in the number of male professors rather than an increase in females. There are now 1,735 male professors compared to 495 who are female.

Last summer, Angela Constance, the Education Secretary, wrote to universities urging them to do more to break the glass ceiling for female academics.

The variety of barriers facing females in academia include a culture of long working hours, inflexible terms and conditions and pressures on researchers to produce academic papers in a way that can be incompatible with family responsibilities.

Many universities use short fixed-term contracts which can deter women because of the lack of security and there have also been warnings over indirect sexism where male professors "subconsciously" mentor and promote those that are similar to themselves.

Mary Senior, Scotland Official for the UCU lecturers' union, called on all universities to do more to ensure there were better opportunities available for female academics to progress.

She said: "There is no reason why there should be three times as many male as women professors when we know that women make up more than 40 per cent of all academic staff.

"We’re seeing agonisingly slow progress toward equality in professorial and senior posts and it is time for universities to accept the need to change and then to set and monitor recruitment targets for top posts in a concentrated effort to close the gap."

Emily Beever, NUS Scotland women’s officer, described the figures as disappointing and said the glass ceiling of academia was "still very much in place".

She added: "Despite making up the majority of undergraduate university entrants, it’s clear women continue to face significant barriers and inequalities the further and higher up they go.

"In terms of seniority, job roles and representation, women continue to fall far behind their male counterparts and in recent years we’ve seen this manifest itself in facts like Scotland having the highest pay gap, in higher education, across the UK.

“While the serious underrepresentation of women isn’t unique to higher education, we should be at the forefront of tackling it."

In her letter last summer, Ms Constance said: "It remains the case that accelerated progress is needed if we are to remove the glass ceiling and enable women to progress based on talent.

"Direct and indirect barriers that restrict women in terms of seniority and academic posts are not compatible with a 21st century Scotland and a modern and inclusive higher education sector."

Figures from last year revealed that some institutions have particularly small proportions of female professors - often depending on what subjects they teach.

The lowest is Abertay University, in Dundee, where seven per cent of professors are female, followed by Heriot-Watt, in Edinburgh, with a proportion of 15 per cent. Queen Margaret University, in Edinburgh, has the best record on female equality with 40 per cent of its professors female.

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland added: “Universities take their legal and moral responsibilities to gender equality very seriously and are working in a number of different ways to support the career progression of women into senior roles in the sector.

"Gradual change is disappointing for everyone involved but we are moving in the right direction with a change from 18 to 23 per cent of professorial roles held by women in recent years. Universities are working to understanding the range of factors that prevent greater rates of progression amongst women and then working to tackle them.”