IT will take Scottish universities more than 20 years to break the glass ceiling which is holding back female academics, new figures show.

At the current rate of progress it will be 2040 before the number of female professors is representative of the number of women academics overall.

Official figures revealed by The Herald show there are currently 580 women professors in Scotland compared to 1775 males - meaning men hold some 75 per cent of promoted posts in academia despite representing just 55 per cent of staff.

The situation is just over six percentage points better than it was 2010/11 when 18.3 per cent of professors were female.

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The stark lack of promotion prospects for female academics has been blamed on a number of factors including entrenched attitudes of gender stereotyping.

Concerns also centre on a culture of long working hours, inflexible terms and conditions and pressure on researchers to produce academic papers in a way that is incompatible with family responsibilities.

Mary Senior, Scotland Official for the UCU lecturers’ union, said the progress in women securing senior roles was “painfully slow”.

She said: “The small number of women professors is deeply disappointing and only serves to entrench the gender pay gap that exists in our universities.

“Considering the number of women working in universities, it is scandalous that so few occupy the top positions and universities will continue to miss out on these talents unless they take serious steps to address the problem.

“Employers need to tackle the barriers that can prevent women from progressing more quickly, such as long hours and the overly-competitive research environments, and take positive measures to support women’s career progression.”

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A spokesman for Universities Scotland, which represents principals, said the latest figures, from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, showed the situation was improving.

He said: “We want to see a gender balance at every level within a university. That is going to take a lot of work, but progress is being made.

“Many of our universities have specific actions within their gender action plans to remove unintended and unseen barriers that may have inadvertently made career progression more challenging for women. Examples of positive change includes coaching schemes for applications to promotion for women and other under-represented groups and running gender-neutral recruitment exercises.”

However, there is increasing concern that the work being done within institutions to promote gender equality is largely passing the white male majority by.

Professor Yvette Taylor, from Strathclyde University’s School of Education, said often the equalities agenda was seen as “women’s work”.

She said: “All too often it can be a tick box exercise and in the everyday workings of the university nothing changes.

“Gender equality has to be embedded as not just the work of a special committee, but in the institution as a whole so that white, middle class, men academics are also doing diversity work and it stops being overwhelmingly women’s work.

“It has to be resourced and seen as higher status, institutions need to look at giving this work recognition alongside research and teaching because we know women are kept at a certain level in academia. The low number of women professors is quite shocking.”

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Talat Yaqoob, director of Equate Scotland, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of women in science and engineering, also said part of the problem was the way universities tackled the issue.

She said: “The intention is good, but it is not being invested in very well so you get female lecturers doing a lot of this work for free, which negates the entire purpose of the work.

“What we need to happen is the rest of the academic body, the majority, doing things differently rather than the same people who have experienced inequality working on this. Some institutions still see this as an add-on.”

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

She said: “It is very concerning to see the glacial progress achieved in the greater representation of women within senior academic positions.

“Students are ready to work alongside our institutions to break down barriers, ensuring our education system better reflects Scotland’s diversity and guides the way for future generations of students to pursue a career in academia on a level playing field.”