In a paper I presented yesterday to the Kings College Maudsley Debates, I set out why the under-representation of women in the highest echelons of academia does not reflect inequality of opportunity, or even a lack of gender equality.

It simply reflects the differences between women and men. Furthermore, attempts to change this are not only ineffective, they are counterproductive.

First of all, it is a myth that women are being discriminated against in recruitment. Recent research shows, to the contrary, that faculty members prefer female applicants by 2:1 over identically qualified males. A report from the Paris School of Economics, which analysed 100,000 applications to high level teaching positions, found an overwhelming gender bias in favour of women. In the past, it is true that gender discrimination was a cause of women’s under-representation in academia, but this claim has continued to be invoked when it is no longer valid.

So if we women are not discriminated against why are they still so under-represented in the upper echelons of academia?

There is an incredibly strong feminist ideological drive to ignore sex differences as an explanation, but you do not have to scratch far beneath the surface to find that, although we exist on a spectrum, we are binary – male and female – best reflected in our different relationship to the central reproductive role.

Even when you give men and women equal parental leave, women are much more keen to use it than men. If women have the choice, most would do more childcare and willingly reduce their hours of work. These family priorities shape women’s choices and values like letters running through a stick of rock.

Among similarly matched male and female top math and science graduates, gender differences increased over time because when women had children they changed their priorities. Other research shows that female PhD students are more likely than men to find research intensely isolating, demanding and all consuming. Women complain too that academia is “work centric”. Crucially, they favour part-time employment devoting less time to their work.

This may well be why they choose other areas of employment, but it is wrong to see women as being ‘pushed out’ of high flying academia. The truth is that there are not that many men who choose the academic path. But unlike women, they have fewer and less attractive options available to them. If you are talking about individuals with strong mathematical abilities and also strong verbal abilities (which includes a lot more women than men), then they have non-STEM career options open to them to pursue as well. This gives women graduates opportunities not available to men – like in public sector work.

Mistakenly,  the response of the ‘Athena Swan Charter’  warriors to all this is to try to change universities and even their approach to science. ‘The problem is with science!’, they loudly proclaim.

Yet there is no evidence that the UK has a problem with science. Our scientific achievements are world class, which could be a result of our ability to still attract truly motivated people, who see science and academic study as a vocation, and which has marked out our scientific achievement as great.

The advocates of Athena Swan’s change charter would happily sacrifice scientific achievement on the altar of ‘gender sameness’.

Let’s look at the sorts of things they like to see done.

One is taking women’s gender into consideration in promotion criteria – and already promotions appear to be prioritising ‘correcting gender imbalances’.

Perhaps it is no surprise that the feeling that good performance is not adequately rewarded pervades the research world.

Secondly, they want to see projects being stopped while the funding applicant takes maternity leave, extensive flexible employment encouraged and resources are directed to facilitating part-time work.

The assumption here is that this will increase the number of women in academia, and this in itself will be good for research.

But will it be?

Academic achievement is not just about ability or intelligence. It is also about application, concentration, dedication and commitment. Above all, it is about very hard work and graft.

Now I am very reluctant to concede that women have less stamina or work less hard than men – but encouraging a family-centred academic culture is an encouragement to work less hard. More dangerously, it creates the real risk of undermining the research culture for all.

The Athena Swan argument is that it increases the talent pool. But if it is really the talent pool we are worrying about, surely the focus should be less on the 10,500 women missing from senior positions in academia than the 175,000 missing male graduates. This constitutes the very much more serious loss.

Not only does Athena Swan, with its obsession about high status women, threaten to damage academia, these very policies are disadvantaging women themselves. A brilliant physicist from Cambridge recounts how it took 6 months to write the Athena Swan Gold award application with the assistance of more than 20 other people including central university staff and colleagues. This equated to two terms of teaching. Not only were her students missing out on this female role model, but what a waste of her time and resources. In last month’s edition of the BMJ (British Medical Journal), a woman recounted how she could have written two papers in the time she spent working on Athena Swan.

Remember, finally, that to get Department of Health funding for you next academic funding, you will soon have to get your Athena Swan Silver (compliance) medal first.

What does it say when funders prioritise gender equality over the excellence of research? Not much for the research.

Women share most of the same abilities as men but tend to make different choices, even when all opportunities are open to them. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, there is much that is good. Academia and scientific achievement will suffer enormously if political obsession with gender sameness is allowed to compromise research excellence.


  1. I agree with some of that. We should have a meritocracy, which doesn’t allow giving places to women just because they are women.
    I also agree that very many women prioritise children, and that can be the reason for lack of numbers in senior academic positions.
    What I can’t agree with is that there are no women, who having had children wouldn’t be interested in research positions, or that there are women who would prefer or have to choose career anyway. Society shouldn’t be interfering in individual life opportunities purely because of a theory about what the majority might prefer. There are very many female scientists individually responsible for major inventions over the last couple of centuries. It isn’t an entirely male discipline.
    Also I can’t agree that reducing hours to part time means work doesn’t get done, or the quality drops. If a scientist owns the particular piece of research she’s working on, it should be her choice as to how she achieves any agreed objectives. Look at Doctors and teachers who are working part time. The idea that part time should only be for poor quality jobs is a British social myth.

    • By actively excluding women who’ve had children, you exclude women with teenagers, who are entitled in my opinion to pursue a career if they want to.
      The issue is infants under the age of three, after that many children (especially those from poor homes), benefit from being in part time good quality nurseries, where they have access to the stimulus of different toys and being read to.

    • “What I can’t agree with is that there are no women, who having had children wouldn’t be interested in research positions, or that there are women who would prefer or have to choose career anyway.”

      What you “can’t agree with” is something that nobody is claiming. A ‘straw man’ argument, I believe?

  2. As a female scientist (although not a researcher), Belinda is 100% correct. The few female scientists who want to be full time researchers have always been welcome, this is about fixing a problem which doesn’t exist. All this social engineering to try to change innate characteristics is going to fail, and is hurting men, women and children in the process, and ultimately society as a whole.

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  3. Thanks Belinda, excellent piece, I’ll link to it shortly.

    You really hit the nail on the head with this:

    “So if we women are not discriminated against why are they still so under-represented in the upper echelons of academia? There is an incredibly strong feminist ideological drive to ignore sex differences as an explanation…”.

    It’s good to see you clear pointing at feminists as the source of the problem with Athena Swan (and of course, by inference, many other taxpayer-funded social engineering initiatives, e.g. the £30 million being spent to ‘encourage’ – a euphemism for ‘bribe’ – women into Engineering. You then write:

    “Now I am very reluctant to concede that women have less stamina or work less hard than men…”.

    I have no such reluctance. Dr Catherine Hakim’s Preference Theory (2000) showed that while four in seven British men are work-centred, only one in seven British women is. A year or two ago she revealed that she had no evidence of British women having become more work-centred in the interim. The fact there’s a record number of women in paid employment isn’t down to choice, because as you write, evidence shows that they’d reduce their work hours by more than men would, given the option – and of course it’s almost always men who finance that option, rarely being offered it in return.

  4. Great article Belinda
    Norway has consistently scored high (often highest) in the world in Gender equality. The Scandinavian examples (Iceland, Norway and Sweden) is constantly highlighted to us as an example of enlightenment. They have almost 50 years of experience in vigorous promoting of equality.
    But with regard to Science & engineering there is a big problem which everyone wants us to overlook. Even now in 2016 the big majority of engineers and scientists are still men in Norway and a very large majority of nurses are still woman.
    Maybe it is there view, of what is meant by ‘woman’s choice’ which is actually the most enlightened thing.

    • You hit on an important point. In those gender equality scores the usual (suspect) methodology is to have mixed process and results (outcomes in modern jargon). Thus they score for having Quotas in politics, positive discrimination (positive action) policies, generous maternity leave and “family friendly” work policies. However the same countries score poorly in terms of women advancing to senior management, “gender segregation” in the workforce and take up of family friendly policies by men. Sweden was so stung by its poor “performance” in terms of results given that all the “right” processes were present that the Gov. commissioned research. What it found was that all the process policies did indeed make it easy for mothers and in fact all women to achieve desirable work life balances. However they also had the effect of meaning even women in full time posts in fact worked part time and there was little incentive for women to push up beyond middle management. This also meant women were expensive employees and had contributed to the growing imbalance in public sector employment (female) and private sector(male). As the private sector were reluctant to offer such generous terms. Over time this “segregation” between sectors had increased in fact. As you say if the desired result was to have women in more diverse and senior roles then the feminist policies had in fact hat the reverse effect.
      This caused considerable debate with the policy result being to offer then enforce more leave to fathers. Thus far with little success as private industry and the men working therein realise the practicably of this. More logical would have been to accept the practical results of their exiting policies. as Belinda has pointed out in the past developing nations with no such policy privileges have better” results”.

      • Your spot on Groan,
        Research from Norway has also shown that a larger number of women on company boards has had no tangible effect on company performance or profits. Yet here in the UK the feminist lobby are still promising these upturns in performance as benefits of gender equal company boards.

      • The private sector does offer a lot of part time work, but it’s generally low paid low quality work, compare to the Netherlands where part time work is widely available in the private sector, children are generally happier and suffering less poverty.

        • Having worked with a number of Dutch people. I found them very direct and “no nonsense”. In one hilarious episode my colleague got sent on an “assertiveness” course. Of course because she’d upset her British colleagues. She returned having had an enjoyable and amusing day. As I have commented before I have long been perplexed at the way the Netherlands has disappeared from the pantheon of lefty nirvanas (as Germany seems to have done when it stopped being “west”). I suspect they have robust public debate!

  5. This subject is all pretty much low hanging fruit and to most people with any kind of intellectual honesty it does not need to be debated.

    The reason I think some people feel the need to still debate it, is because the feminist industry is so well funded and has easy access to the media, because the media is controlled by the globalist left which funds and supports feminism.

    We really do not need to point out the obvious as to why women are not represented as much in science, or why young girls prefer to play with dolls, and young boys prefer playing with cars. Its called the result of 250,000 of evolution, its called nature, its called normality. Feminism is attacking it because they want to destroy gender, destroy the family and destroy society, because they are really just marxists who want to smash capitalism and traditionalism.

    • If what you say is true (and I’m inclined to agree it is), then feminism, as the monstrous ideology it has become, needs to be defeated, and thus needs to be debated. We cannot defeat it by remaining silent.

      • The solution to destroying feminism though is simple.

        Do exactly what Japan did.

        Remove all feminist studies, genders studies degrees from Universities. Also, remove all funding for all feminist research and organisations.

        Feminism would then cease to exist, because it only exists due to the funding it receives from the government.

        Our government just needs to act in the way Japan’s government acted. They could see it was Maxism for women, and they said it did not lead to any productive activity and was damaging to Japan’s dangerously low birth rate.

        What we lack is the political will to get rid of feminism from our society because our country is not run by people who have the best interests of our people at heart, and many of them are owned.

        In conclusion, Is conservative women and this author prepared to campaign for us to treat feminism like Japan did?

        • I agree. Funding gender studies and such non-subjects is simply funding trouble-making nonsense. Eliminate these subjects and we could reduce tuition fees for students studying useful subjects that the country needs.

    • We were overwhelmingly defeated in the debate and Joanna Williams was on the houses side and she is excellent. However a participant on the opposing side did say to me afterwards that she would like to see Athena Swan abolished in five years time – I think her thinking was that we need to get the family friendly stuff in and once that is done we don’t need AS.

    • What is normality? A lot of young girls prefer cars to dolls. I was one of them, a tomboy through and through with the scars to prove it. It doesn’t make me a femiloon. I’m approaching 60 and I’m still into cars, I love off-roading and have the mud-caked Landy to prove it. If little girls want dollies, dolls houses and dolls accessories, and many do, I don’t have a problem with that. It shouldn’t be made a problem by hateful, gendercide nutjobs.

  6. Excellent article, but we should not overlook the biggest gender gap of all: since the rise of ideological feminism the education system has become toxic for boys to the extent that, for a number of years now, more than twice as many females than males have been entering higher education. If this situation were reversed and girls were disadvantaged to the same extent, feminists would be up in arms. Yet they remain silent. And they claim that feminism is all about equality!

  7. Are the feminists asking for equal representation in Science or as a Boardroom executive (the high paying jobs), also asking for equal representation as Refuse workers, lorry drivers, sewage workers, coal miners or traffic wardens?

    Just a question that I would like an honest answer to.

    Also why do all of the feminists who chose a feminist studies degrees, not select a science or a maths degree? After all, how best to increase female participation in Science or as a CEO, by actually entering those fields yourself?

    This is another question I would like an honest to.

    • “Also why do all of the feminists chose a feminist studies degree, not select a science or a maths degree”

      Because it’s easier to throw muck at men than to discover new things?

      Because the feminist students know they can just answer all the exam questions with a variation of “Men bad, women good” and still pass the exam, instead of having to bother with all those tricky equations?

    • No they are not asking for equal representation as refuse workers etc. In fact what they would like is if the sorts of jobs which less educated women prefer such as dinner lady is paid the same as dustbin man. Not too sure why they don’t just campaign for women to be dustbin men – maybe because it is dirty, smelly, heavy, hard work. Simpler if women just get paid more for doing what they like doing. Re the second – really if you are a scientist – it is incredibly demanding work and feminists wouldn’t be able to do all their campaigning at the same time. Sadly a lot of women scientists do become feminists because they believe all the stuff ‘social’ scientists tell them. They don’t realise what a load of ideologically driven nonsense a great of social science is.

  8. Comrade Brown, you have been found guilty of making counter-revolutionary reactionary-defeatist statements. Please report immediately for ideological reprogramming.

  9. It may well take twenty years to show up statistically given the take up of shared parental leave is even lower than anticipated, but I would expect to see that those males taking it will suffer similar career penalties to women; and since the response of the railway operator losing a discrimination claim in respect of the level of pay of those men taking SPL has been to reduce the pay of the women to statutory, I would assume the level of take up will be even lower in future.
    Plus, of course those women who work as a man does are rewarded as a man is.

  10. An androgynous society in which sex differences have been expunged does not exist. What’s more it cannot exist in a society where peace and freedom are still valued.

  11. Belinda makes reference to the inordinate amount of time it takes to complete Athena Swan applications – taking women away from research for many months. And what was the solution to this problem suggested In the live debate? To make men do it. Hilarious.

  12. “There is no difference between the genders”
    From the same people that gave you
    “None of the zoo’s customers were ever in danger from the escaped gorilla”.

  13. Halting a pioneering project into curing cancer or some other deadly or life changing affliction to make way for maternity leave in order to assuage idiotic femiloon positive discrimination? Have we completely lost our senses?


    • If the person who`s acquired the funding for the project is responsible for their own research, then why not? (nothing to move forward anyway when they’re not there). It sounds to me as though the issue is whether or not the funding is lost automatically when they take maternity leave, and have to reapply later on return to work, but maybe that’s just the way I’m reading it. In a team whoever could be replaced so I doubt that’s the problem.

      • Is it reasonable to expect that should you quit a funded project in order to make what is actually a lifestyle choice, that funding should still be in place when the woman decides to return?

        I’m female, remember. When I started my family I quit my profession because It was very difficult to concentrate on both and I wasn’t willing to give up child rearing to paid strangers. Nor did I expect my employers to go hang while I thought about it. You are right about mothers with teenagers though. Trained professional women, including scientists although science progresses at a fast pace these days, returning to work after rearing their children will never find an argument with me.

        • I suppose the decision is owned by the funder and based on the importance of the research. If it’s that important they’ll wait-if not- they won’t.

  14. The proposal here is for multiple non gender based flexible work/life policies which both men and women have access to, and which include sharing income . 80% of women are looking for a non work centric lifestyle, while 20% are work centric. Couples with no children work equally long hours.
    Men are also now looking for more flexible work policies, which is a good thing as long hours create the stress associated with disease and a shortened lifespan.
    In a free society it`s necessary that all opportunity is catered for, rather just full time work, and that includes good quality, part time outside the public sector.

    • The other part of the Athena Swan proposal is that women should be rewarded equally and equally represented despite the fact that they make different life choices. Also making work places family centric is likely to erode research culture – you are not as likely to get nobel laureates from people who have other priorities (unless of course equal opportunities infiltrate nobel prize giving too which is entirely possible).

      • I don’t have a problem with equal rewards which is part of a meritocracy. Families can be compensated by other means as mentioned in that article. I don`t think women have to be represented by another woman to have an unbiased representation made on their behalf based on the law, (in the Middle East it’s actually men who are pushing the equal opportunity agenda, and the Muslim population growth rate is slowing as women become more educated).
        Women make a choice on where they become employed, those employers who value highly qualified women at work ..will attempt to attract them, and it will be male board executives making any policy changes. Those that don’t (including labs and other restricted zones inappropriate for families) won’t.
        Theresa Mays idea of workers being included on the board is interesting?

  15. Our daughter has recently been awarded he doctorate from the LSE but in spite of this is quite content to work part-time in what many would consider a mundane job, certainly one that does not require use of her qualifications. Her attitude is simple, she wants time for family and other activities including looking after her garden. These are her priorities and her husband is quite happy with the situation and in many ways her earnings are pocket money.
    She is lucky, but it illustrates why we will never get equality of the sexes in most jobs, probably a majority of women don’t want to even try to ‘get to the top’. The problem is that this is often not recognised with the result that attempts to get more women in higher level jobs often results in many posts being filled with less capable women.

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