Women are significantly under represented in senior committee positions in a number of campus societies traditionally dominated by men, figures released by YUSU have revealed.
The YUSU figures, calculated from the names of society signatories, show that men hold committee positions in a number of areas that they would traditionally dominate.
Seventy-two per cent of the “executive” committee members of York’s political societies, including York Tories, York Student Think Tank and the Debating Society, are men. The University of York Conservative and Unionist Association have had six male chairmen in a row.
Seventy-one per cent of the senior committees of the University’s careers societies, including Bright Futures and the Entrepreneurs Society, are made up of men.
Half of the 170 senior committees surveyed are made up of female students, but with 58 per cent of the student population made up of female students, this still signifies an under-representation.
But the figures do show that women are more likely to win positions in traditionally “feminine” societies. Dance and performance society committees, including CHMS, Pantsoc, Fusion and Dance Society, are made up of 65 per cent women.
Charity and campaign societies, including Oxfam, York Pen and International Development Society, are made up of 68 per cent women.
There is also a difference between in academic societies representing traditional male and female subjects. Sixty-six per cent of arts and humanities subject committees are made up of women, while the equivalent figure for ‘hard’ sciences is just one in three.
One in three members of the Physics department are female but Physsoc has an entirely male executive committee, with only three women out of a committee of fifteen.
Sam Bourne, Chair of Physsoc said that women were applying for positions, but just not winning them: “There’s always the standard cliques voting for each other, and friendship circles tend to dominate elections.”
He added: “We have a fair few girls who run for positions, in our recent by-elections there were probably 50/50 guys and girls running for the positions, so they are applying.”
Alex Wilson, Chair of University of York Feminists said: “The numbers from the survey don’t surprise me at all, and reflect the gender division in these areas that exist in national professions.”
“Traditionally male-dominated spheres can often feel hostile to women. Politics, sciences and being ambitious career-wise are considered ‘male’ pursuits, whereas voluntary work and the arts are viewed as ‘female’, ‘softer’ or less useful.”
She added: “It’s deeply rooted in the assumptions we make about what men and women are good at.”
Lizzie Lynch, former women’s officer of University of York Labour Club and co-founder of Gender Access Politics (GAP), said all male committees can put new women off from joining: “If the two women who were already prominent committee members [of UYLC] hadn’t been at fresher’s fair, I might not have joined the society.
“It’s about women trusting themselves in their abilities and contributions to join in the political side to University life to start setting a precedent for the working world.
“Sadly I don’t think this is happening on campus to the extent it should.”
In response to the findings, Kallum Taylor, YUSU President, said: “To varying extents we’re always going to be bound by the ‘norms’ which are generated in our recent history; though business, media, culture, and politics. These figures are no doubt similar across other institutions.
“The challenges to status quo have to start with young people though. We should be doing more to enable our members (regardless of gender) to become leaders as soon as possible.
“Only having one female candidate out of the nine who are running for YUSU President this year speaks volumes for how this kind of thing can become a representational problem.
“I think it’s well worth YUSU looking into what Nouse have raised here with measured urgency.”
Out of York’s 13 media societies 50.6 per cent of senior committees are made up of women, similar to the campus average but still below the overall campus population.
The findings also showed that music societies were under represented with women making up just 45 per cent of the 12 committees surveyed.
The data is not one hundred per cent reliable since it is reliant on individual societies updating their committee on the YUSU website after elections.