Women professors and the academic housework trap

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Women constitute just over one fifth of full professors in UK higher education and whilst work has emerged in recent years on professors as leaders, there has been comparatively little research about how this under-represented cadre define and practise their role as intellectual leaders. This paper seeks to analyse how women see their role as full professors through autobiographical accounts of their intellectual and career histories via interviews with women professors, and a small comparison group of male professors. A range of freedoms and responsibilities connected with the professorial role are identified along with personal qualities considered central to success. Both female and male professors understand their role principally in terms of research leadership, but women are more likely to emphasise the importance of academic citizenship, especially mentoring, compared to their male counterparts, an obligation that weighs especially heavily on women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas. While these findings are indicative of the continuing effect of so-called ‘academic housework’ in holding back the academic careers of women, they are also a positive indicator of a commitment to an all-round role as an intellectual leader. Copyright © 2019 Association for Tertiary Education Management and the LH Martin Institute for Tertiary Education Leadership and Management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-274
JournalJournal of Higher Education Policy and Management
Issue number3
Early online dateMar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


Macfarlane, B., & Burg, D. (2019). Women professors and the academic housework trap. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 41(3), 262-274. doi: 10.1080/1360080X.2019.1589682


  • Gender
  • Women professors
  • Academic profession
  • Academic citizenship
  • Service
  • Academic freedom


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