Irish universities: male-dominated? Limits and possibilities for change?

Pat O'Connor (Department of Sociology, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Publication date: 30 December 2011



This paper aims to provide a quantitative picture of the extent to which Irish universities are male-dominated at senior management, professoriate and governance levels; to locate this pattern in an international context; and, drawing on qualitative data from a purposive sample of Irish university senior managers, to explore the limits and possibilities of change.


The quantitative data at senior management level draw on a largely web-based study, supplemented by interview data from a purposive sample of 40 people (85 per cent response rate) in senior management positions in all seven universities funded by the state – including those at Dean to Presidential level, men and women, and academics and non-academics. The interview schedule used in the qualitative study was devised by the eight-country Women in Higher Education Management Network (WHEM).


Irish universities are very male-dominated at senior management, professoriate and governance levels. The qualitative data suggest that the limits to change are an organisational culture that is homosocial and conformist, where women and their attitudes and priorities are seen as “the problem”. Yet there was a striking level of endorsement of various discourses suggesting that having women in senior management makes a difference.

Research limitations/implications

The failure of the Higher Educational Authority to collect data on the gender of those in senior management in Irish universities has necessitated the use of the web. This is an effective pragmatic response, but obviously not as satisfactory as official data.

Practical implications

It has been widely recognised that diversity in management teams is positively associated with innovation. In this context the absence of such diversity in the senior management teams in Irish universities raises concerns in the context of the challenges facing Irish society in general and the university sector in particular. The references to the organisational culture as conformist and homosocial raise fundamental questions about the universities ' ability to use the skills of their staff to move the institution forward.


The paper is the first specific study of senior management in Irish universities. It echoes and specifies the nature of the organisational culture – but also highlights the existence of legitimating discourses endorsed by senior managers.



O'Connor, P. (2011), "Irish universities: male-dominated? Limits and possibilities for change?", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 83-96.

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