Mentoring Plan Aims at Women Theology Researchers

Sonya Sharma
Sonya Sharma
A new mentoring scheme for women in academia researching religion has been launched in the wake of a report which highlighted the significant lack of women in senior academic positions.

Gender and Career Progression in Theology and Religious Studies, released last year, noted that while women outnumber men among undergraduates in the two disciplines, they make up only about a third of academic staff and one in six professors.

The report said that part of the reason was that the drop-out rate for female postgraduate students studying theology or religious studies was more than twice that of other subjects it had studied.

The authors – Matthew Guest, Sonya Sharma, and Robert Song – describe a process in which undergrads in theological and religious studies are 60 percent female, and yet by the time postgrads and academic staff are logged, the proportion is more than reversed:

As the gender ratio becomes more skewed in favour of male students over the course of the student experience, it is interesting to ask at which point most women drop out. Between undergraduate and MA level, there is a drop in the proportion of women that amounts to 18.4 percentage points; the drop between MA and PhD level is 8.5 percentage points. The most dramatic opt-out occurs after undergraduate study, beyond which the student population has a clear, and increasing, male majority. By the time we get to the profile of academic staff, the female majority evident at undergraduate level has halved, and a 70%/30% split favours men by a significant margin.

Now the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion study group has launched a mentoring scheme led by Sonya Sharma, a sociologist at Kingston University.

The program is open to women who conduct research on religion. Women who apply will be matched with a mentor in a more senior position, for example an early career scholar would be placed with a senior lecturer. This is normally for one year or more.

Those mentored receive support and advice on job applications, guidance on preparing publications, funding bids, returning to work after a career break and navigating promotion.

“A key objective of the scheme is to support the career progression of women in academic disciplines that continue to be male-dominated, and to promote good practice in relation to equality and diversity,” said Dr Sonya Sharma.

The scheme is open to women in the UK and Ireland, from first-year PhD students to Readers. Both mentors and mentees should be study group members – membership costs £30 a year, with discounts for students and the low waged.

Organisers are asking for potential mentors, as well as those wanting support, to come forward. Contact Sharma at

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British Sociological Association

The British Sociological Association is the national subject association for sociologists in Britain. Founded in 1951, our members are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds including research, teaching, students and practitioners in a variety of fields. Through a range of exclusive membership benefits, specialist study groups and a busy calendar of events, we provide a network of communication to all who are concerned with the promotion and use of sociology and sociological research, helping to improve our understanding of society and social processes.

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