Resisting, accepting and supporting gender equality in Portuguese Higher Education Institutions: Leadership Profiles




Gender Equality in Higher Education Institutions, HEIs Leaders’ perceptions about Gender Equality, Willingness for change in HEIs


In the European context, Portugal is the country with the lowest number of women (1.9% in 2016) at the top of the academic career and just 30% of women in the leadership of HEIs (She Figures 2018; Elsevier, 2021; Cabrera, 2019; Carvalho and Diogo, 2018). Paradoxically, it is also one of the European countries where female academics have the highest publishing productivity (Elsevier, 2021) and make up most of the doctorates (55% in 2016). Only very recently, however, these inequalities began to receive attention. In 2019, for example, women's participation in academic decision-making and leadership became required by law (National Law 26/2019) in all Portuguese public higher education institutions. And levelling effects of this law are soon expected since human resources management in the public HE institutions in Portugal is a centralised system (OECD, 2021). In this context it also becomes interesting to understand what academic leaders think about the promotion of gender equality in HEIs. This paper seeks to address this question. As part of a larger research project exploring gender equality issues in HEIs in Portugal we dethatched qualitative interviews conducted with HEIs leaders throughout the country. The project also involved secondary analyses of national and international data on gender equality and four case studies in HEIs with an action research approach. The outcome of the analysis was an exploratory typology identifying three specific profiles among interviewees – Resisting, Accepting, and Supporting – conveying different ways of understanding and dealing with gender equality issues in HEIs. Overall, this qualitative analysis found a greater awareness about Gender Equality than what has been reported in previous research (e.g. Carvalho, White and Machado-Taylor 2013; Carvalho, Özkanli and Machado-Taylor, 2012; Carvalho and Machado-Taylor, 2010). The paper describes and illustrates each of these profiles and discusses implications of these findings for promoting gender equality in HEIs in Portugal and beyond.