SCOTTISH universities have been accused of “appalling” gender imbalances after it emerged male academics are far more likely to be promoted than woman.

Figures obtained by The Herald show women currently make up 47 per cent of the academic workforce, but account for only 23 per cent of professors and 30 per cent of senior academics. The situation is only marginally better than the previous year when 22 per cent of professors were women.

At the current rate of progress, it would take a quarter of a century for Scottish universities to reach parity between the sexes in terms of promotion.

The imbalance has been blamed on a variety of factors including 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.

Campaigners said many universities use short fixed-term contracts that can deter women because of the lack of security as well as highlighting the indirect sexism where male professors “subconsciously” mentor and promote those similar to themselves.

Mary Senior, Scotland official for the UCU lecturers’ union, said lack of career progression was a significant problem for women in universities.

She said: “These figures demonstrate the inequality at the top of our universities where fewer than a quarter of professors at Scottish institutions are women.

“While this figure represents some small progress on previous years it is painfully slow given that around half of all academic staff are women. We need to address this as soon as possible and make senior academic careers compatible with having children and balancing family and caring commitments.”

Ms Senior blamed the “long hours culture” of universities as well as the requirements of research funding which mean academics are constantly publishing work.

She added: “We’re calling on all universities to sit down and speak to us to identify, consider and address the barriers and issues at play on gender pay and career progression. Gender shouldn’t be a determining factor in the success of an academic career.”

There was also concern from Jodie Waite, education spokeswoman for student body NUS Scotland, who said it was vital to have female role models for students.

She said: “It’s appalling to see women continue to be so grossly underrepresented in senior academic positions, particularly as we know that senior academics are fantastic role models for current and future students.

“A lack of women in senior roles runs the risk of further perpetuating the gender imbalances we already have in subject areas, particularly in science, engineering and maths.

“There are some great initiatives already working to address these inequalities across the sector, including mentoring and coaching programmes for women, but the problem lies with the structural barriers within our institutions.”

Ms Waite called for universities to  act on the cultural barriers preventing women fulfilling their potential to ensure both staff and student bodies reflected Scottish society.”

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents principals, said universities were working hard to tackle the issue and progress had been made.

She said: “We need to prevent male or female over-representation in certain roles and to put better structures in place to support the promotion of women in all roles.

“Almost every Scottish university takes part in Aurora, a women-only leadership development programme, with this goal in mind.

“The number of women being promoted to professorial roles is far outstripping that of men. 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.”

The figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show there were 175 female senior academics in 2016 compared to 405 males. There were 525 women professors and 1,720 male professors.

The imbalance in promoted posts has fuelled a significant pay gap between the sexes across UK universities. A study earlier this year showed the gap has only closed slightly from 12.6 per cent to 12 per cent in the past two years.

The report by the UCU concluded that significant pay gaps at senior level coupled with under-representation of women in top posts pushed up the difference in wages in higher education.

Minister For Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “These findings are disappointing. I have made clear this government's desire to see much more rapid progress made by our higher education institutions in addressIng the current imbalance on gender representation in senior ranks.

"It is important that our universities reflect the wide diversity within Scotland’s society and the student population that they serve.

"Yet, these figures suggest progress on recruiting and promoting more women to senior positions has been slow. I will continue to impress upon all our higher education institutions to do more on this and other gender equality issues.”