Higher education institutions (HEIs) are essential in achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals. Gender equity, the fifth of the 17 goals, signifies an equal representation of men and women in all spheres of life. However, empirical research has demonstrated that women, despite being capable and qualified at par with men, occupy only a little space in leadership, authority, power, income and status in HEIs. Accelerating efforts to achieve sustainable goals through superior teaching, research, and the implementation of professional management systems are essential to addressing these difficulties.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, India ranks 135 out of 146 countries in the gender gap. The latest rank is a sharp decline from 105 out of 135 countries in 2012. However, India improved its overall performance on the SDGs to 66 in 2020–21 from 60 in 2019–20 and 57 in 2018–19, according to NITI Aayog’s SDG India Index report (2020-21). The overall SDG5 score in India Index 3.0 was 48 in 2020–21, up from 42 in SDG5 India Index 2.0 in 2019–20.

So it is essential to follow gender-focused human resource management (HRM) practices to achieve the required goals in HEIs.

Leadership: There are no structural systems to fix the gender leaky pipeline in universities in India. A study by the authors reveals that the total women representation of directors in Institutes of National Importance is 5 per cent, while in other HEIs, it is 9 per cent. In comparison, around 4 per cent of women are registrars in Institutes of National Importance, while the complete representation of women registrars is 11 per cent in the central and state HEIs. Committed leadership is essential to ensure unequivocal support to achieve gender equality. Leadership training programmes for women are essential from the junior level.

Recruitment and promotion: Recruiting quality faculty, administration and other non-teaching staff and managing gender equality in recruitment and promotion is crucial. The HRM team could play a pivotal role as gender diversity champions towards (i) establishing an efficient hiring and promotion system in the universities, (ii) ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion in the recruitment and promotion processes, (iii) making sure that women actively participate in the selection and promotion processes and that relevant norms are followed as per the HEI statutory rules and (iv) maintaining transparency in the selection process during recruitment and promotion.

Succession planning: HRM must follow systematic diversity programmes to support gender equality and reduce bias through succession planning and extending network opportunities.

Training and development: The success of gender diversity measures in higher education hinges on providing high-quality training and sensitisation programmes for all faculty, staff and students.

Career development: It is observed that several barriers obstruct women’s career development and upward growth in HEIs in India. While many women are equally competent, few have successfully reached their desired goals, making it crucial to breaking the glass ceiling in women’s career growth.

Performance management: The success of HEIs largely depends on the potential of their human capital. It is very crucial that the performance evaluation system that deals with gender diversity needs to be fair, transparent and criterion-based.

To sum up, there is a dire need for gender-equal HRM practices to weed out procedural injustice, such as unsupportive culture, gender disparity in recruitment, lack of professional training programmes for women, unequal promotion and career advancement policies.

Pandit is a Fulbright Fellow and Registrar, IGIDR, Mumbai. Bino Paul is Pro Vice-Chancellor at TISS, Mumbai. Views expressed are personal