Increasing the representation of women in academia is a priority challenge in higher education policy. This study uses data from the Italian University habilitation competition in 2012 to test whether this national, standardized and quantitative assessment of researchers contributed to improving the situation. The proportion of female applications (on the whole about 36%) was in many fields higher than the reported proportion of female University professors (27%, 2010), but lower than the proportion of female researchers (2010) in Italy (45% and 51% for researchers with and without a permanent position, respectively). There was still a gap between the proportion of female applications at the associate (on average 39%) and full professor level (29%). A similar gap was also present between scientific disciplines and the humanities. Average success rates of female applications (41.2%) were on the whole lower than those of male applications (43.9%), but in most fields these differences were not significant. Overall, it is generally much lower proportion of female applications rather than their lower success rate that perpetuates the low proportion of female academics in Italy. More effort is needed to support female researchers in choosing and pursuing an academic career.
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