Today is the third anniversary of Micheline’s historic win for gender equality.
It was Nov. 13, 2014, when the Equality Tribunal issued its landmark ruling concluding that Micheline was discriminated against because of her gender when she was not promoted at NUI Galway in 2009, citing the university’s ‘ramshackle approach to the process’. That promotion round saw 16 men but only one woman promoted to Senior Lecturer, even though 52% of Junior Lecturers were women. Yet what has NUI Galway done since then to right the injustice against women in academia? Five other women who applied for promotion in the 2008-2009 round were exposed to the same injustices as Micheline — four of them are STILL fighting for promotion! Let’s review what has happened in the three years since the ruling.
Micheline’s win was the first time any woman in academia in Ireland or the UK had proved gender discrimination in promotion. It was major news in both countries on TV and radio and in newspapers and was followed by the release in early December 2014 of statistics gathered by Ireland’s Higher Education Authority showing the percentage of women at each level in Irish universities. The low percentage of women in senior academic positions resulted in another massive amount of publicity and genuine shock that Ireland was so poor in this sector, which had been assumed to be more enlightened. In fact, Ireland proved to be one of the worst countries in Europe for the university glass-ceiling index, which puts a spotlight on the lack of women in senior academic posts.
Having won her case and produced all this publicity, Micheline met with NUI Galway President Dr Jim Browne. She thought that telling him all she had found out through the case, much of which had not been made public and would be even more embarrassing to NUI Galway, would result in the five other women shortlisted in the 2008-2009 round being promoted. When he refused, she felt she had no alternative but to donate her €70,000 award to the five women so they could file court cases as they were out of time to go to the Equality Tribunal. When the media discovered her offer, there was even more publicity that first week of December.
That same week, Jim Browne indicated he would set up a Task Force to look into the discrimination of women at NUI Galway. He insisted the move was coincidental, planned before Micheline’s win and the bad publicity. Making things worse, he claimed to RTE NEWS that Micheline had agreed to be appointed to the Task Force. It was this claim which led to Micheline setting her Three Conditions before she would agree to serve on the Task Force. These conditions were: promotion for the five other women, correct the gender bias in the subsequent 2013-2014 promotion round, and ensure that future rounds promote the same proportion of women as there are at the level from which they are being promoted.
Micheline then gave a speech about her case in a lecture theatre which proved nowhere near large enough to hold all the staff and students who came to hear her speak. It was there that this Equality Campaign was founded to support her and the achievement of her Three Conditions. As we are not NUI Galway staff, but students, former students and others, we have been able to organise things which would have been difficult for staff to undertake. We set up a petition on Change.org, which as of this morning has 4,085 signatures; we undertook poster campaigns in the university highlighting the gender bias there. Most famously, we sponsored a cartoon exhibition that NUI Galway took down in the middle of the night but then relented and allowed us to put it up again after the resulting bad publicity.
Meanwhile, the five women had been meeting with university management to try to resolve the injustice, to no avail. In their first meeting with Jim Browne, he told them he ‘could not and would not promote them’ and that they did not deserve promotion. In the second, attended by the Chair of the Governing Body, Catherine McGuinness, they were told that they had to prove they deserved the promotion in court and warned by Chairperson McGuinness that they might not win. One of the women decided to pursue her case separately in the Labour Court, but four of the women initiated a High Court case in April 2015 that the university then sought to have thrown out. It was this hypocrisy that resulted in the Equality Campaign’s very successful benefit concert in March 2016 to raise money for the women’s High Court action and to highlight a demonstration against NUI Galway’s hypocrisy outside the court that May. NUI Galway’s response, three days before the planned demo, was to enter into mediation with the four women. But the mediation proved to be only a tactic to avoid the demonstration – the offer made to the women was not reasonable – and a new date for the High Court pre-hearing was set for March of next year.
Something else which came out of the initial publicity about Micheline’s historic win was the Expert Panel set up by Ireland’s Higher Education Authority to make recommendations on what to do about gender discrimination at Ireland’s universities. Again the man setting it up, chief executive John Boland, insisted at the time, like Jim Browne with his Task Force, that this move was purely coincidental and something he had always intended to do. The panel recommended in a report published in June 2016 (see Page 76 of report) that all future government research funding to Irish universities be dependent on receiving an Athena SWAN award. The first hurdle set by the funding bodies was achieving the Bronze level by 2019. In September, NUI Galway became the first Irish university to be turned down for the second time for the Bronze award, with the court cases filed by the women cited. All the other universities by then had received the award, except Maynooth, which plans to submit a second application this month.
All this pressure has resulted in some progress at NUI Galway. Last month, one of the five women accepted an offer which gave her a promotion now rather than backdated to 2009. A week later, NUI Galway announced the results of the university’s recent gender-corrected promotion round to Senior Lecturer, saying 58% were women. However, as we pointed out in our post, in actuality, 50% of those promoted were female. Still, this is a positive result that we believe is down to the pressure from this campaign. When earlier this year, NUI Galway announced a quota of 40% for women, we made much of how this was actually only 1% higher than the previous promotion round had achieved. With this latest result, finally the first of Micheline’s Three Conditions was on its way to being fulfilled. Though, as we pointed out, there was still a lot NUI Galway had to do to complete it.
Micheline, who returns on the 22nd of this month from her US tour, has told us that she is now even more determined to ensure that all five women who filed the court cases get all they deserve. She believes that it is their bravery in challenging NUI Galway that has allowed the changes for Irish academic women that have occurred over the last three years. So now we must all ensure they get what they have been fighting for.
Micheline’s first action will be an Open Letter to NUI Galway’s Athena SWAN team, to be sent from the West Coast of the US where she is now staying, stating that NUI Galway must resolve the injustice of the discriminatory 2008-2009 promotion round before the university applies again for an Athena SWAN award. This is her first move in ensuring that NUI Galway does not receive the award unless the university corrects this past gender discrimination. If NUI Galway applies without doing this, she will, with our help, be calling on supporters to flood the Athena SWAN organisation with objections to NUI Galway’s application. We will be publishing her Open Letter once it has been sent. Watch this space!