AS a young academic Sascha Hooker was desperate to further her studies of marine birds and animals with a trip to the Antarctic.

Following a talk to promote jobs with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) she was inspired to ask the speakers about taking up a post on a remote Atlantic island, but was met with a rather unexpected response.

“It was back in the early 1990s. I was particularly interested in the biology of marine mammals and birds and the BAS biological research base was on Bird Island, a small island at the north tip of South Georgia.

“I went up to them after the talk and asked about applying for one of their biologist positions, but they looked at me and basically told me I couldn’t do that because they only took men.

“With only three staff for the winter, they thought it was too problematic to have a woman there.”

Read more: Women face 20 year wait to break glass ceiling at universities

Now a professor at the Scottish Oceans Institute at St Andrews University, Ms Hooker is a leading expert on whale behaviour, despite switching to work part-time in 2005 to look after her three children - one of whom suffered a stroke before birth which meant her left side was impaired.

“It has taken slightly longer for me to become a professor at St Andrews because I switched to working part-time 14 years ago due to family commitments,” she said.

“I have three children and one of them also has additional needs. She suffered a stroke before she was a born which left her with a type of cerebral palsy.

“I was keen to be involved in the intensive physiotherapy she needed to help promote the use of her left side, which weighed into my decision to work only half-time.”

Professor Hooker said she had been well supported by the university, but had always questioned the length of time it might take to become a professor in Scotland working for only part of the time.

She added: “If you make the choice to go half time, should it take you twice as long to get promotion because you have to achieve the same body of work as others?

“I think I may be the first half-timer who has been promoted to professor at St Andrew which sends a great message to everyone that it is possible to be evaluated fairly, despite reduced hours.”

While Professor Hooker’s story is of success figures published by The Herald today highlight once again the lack of promotion prospects for female academics more widely in Scotland.

Figures provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show just 24.6 per cent of professorships are held by women despite the fact the make up 45 per cent of academic staff.

The issue has 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 pressure on researchers to produce academic papers in a way that is incompatible with family responsibilities.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland, which represents principals, said the ratio of male to female professors was shifting in the right direction, albeit slowly.

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.”

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.”