Knowledge for a sustainable world

Katie James, Lydia O’Meara, Rania Hassan |

The obstacles facing women in academia exist at multiple stages in their career. Despite the fact that over half of all PhDs have been awarded to women in recent years, the percentage of permanent female academic staff is between 20–30% in the EU and US, and women are currently underrepresented as first authors in high-impact journals [1]. Women in the UK occupy only 17.5% of senior academic positions [2]; of this, only 2% are women of colour [3].

Issues around women’s representation are linked to gender bias. To measure the extent of gender bias in academic hiring practices, names of applicants for academic positions were submitted anonymised, as first names often influence people’s perceptions of the individual’s gender. Compared to applications not anonymised, there was a higher proportion of female applicants accepted [4]. Gender bias also exists when applying for grant funding [5], female applicants with grant success rates equivalent to men were given lower reviewer scores, and men with less experience than women were awarded grants at a higher rate [6].

Such findings were discussed by a group of female representatives of NRIPS – the NRI Postgraduate Society. Run by and for postgraduate students, NRIPS aims to enrich the academic, social and intellectual interests of its members through a range of academic, career and social activities. When considering the barriers facing women’s development and progression in academia, the group identified the need to hold an open dialogue with their peers around gender issues in academia and to explore what needs to change to achieve equity.

The NRIPS representatives discussed the importance of amplifying and connecting safe and diverse communication networks between colleagues and institutions to raise issues and consider strategies to support and enable female progression. For many female academics of the next generation, it is disheartening, to say the least, that the odds of career development are already stacked against them – when personal milestones, such as having a family, make career progression slower due to gaps in publication records and being ‘out of the loop’ in research networks. Unconscious bias is yet another barrier when applying for a job or grant funding post PhD.

In order to take positive action regarding this issue, female NRIPS representatives organised the event ‘Building Successful Careers in Development and Natural Resources Research’, in collaboration with NRI’s Gender and Social Difference Development Programme and the University of Greenwich’s Women’s Network. The event took place on 7th March 2022, online and in person at the University of Greenwich Medway Campus (Blake 032). Crucially, this event provided a safe and supportive space for women to discuss issues of female career progression, provided representation, advice, resources, and support networks. It is hoped that this event will be the first of many talks and networking events to broaden knowledge bases and connectivity of future academic progression from a diverse range of research and backgrounds.

We call on our male colleagues as allies and to work together to achieve equity and build working relationships inclusive to everyone.

Read the other articles in our IWD 2022 series here


[1] Shen, Y., Webster, J., Shoda, Y. and Fine, I., 2018. Persistent Underrepresentation of Women’s Science in High Profile Journals. Pre-print,.

[2] Houser, K. and Estop, H., 2019. What are the key challenges facing women in academia? — SAGE Ocean | Big Data, New Tech, Social Science. [online] SAGE Ocean. Available at:

[3] 2022. Who's working in HE? | HESA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 February 2022].

[4] Johnson, S.K. and Kirk, J.F., 2020. Research: To Reduce Gender Bias, Anonymize Job Applications. Harvard Business Review.

[5] Tamblyn, R., Girard, N., Qian, C. and Hanley, J., 2018. Assessment of potential bias in research grant peer review in Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 190(16), pp. E489-E499.

[6] Morgan, R., Hawkins, K. and Lundine, J., 2018. The foundation and consequences of gender bias in grant peer review processes. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 190(16), pp. E487-E488.