The UK’s science minister, Chris Skidmore, has said women are underrepresented at the highest levels of academia and called on universities to appoint more female professors.

Writing in The Guardian newspaper on International Women’s Day, Skidmore said improving female representation at universities would lead to a ‘more cohesive, collaborative academic community’. He praised UK universities as ‘world leaders’ in promoting gender equality, but said more needed to be done to address the gender balance among professors and those in senior leadership roles.

‘Data shows us the ladder to success gets harder for women to climb the further up they go,’ Skidmore wrote. ‘Although women make up the majority of undergraduates in our universities, just under half of academic staff are female. At senior levels, only a quarter of professors are women.’ A recent Royal Society of Chemistry report found that only 9% of chemistry professors in the UK are women.

He said ‘proactive’ strategies are needed, such as an initiative by the University of Leicester that aims to increase the proportion of professorships held by women to 30% by 2020. He added that it is important to ensure universities’ governing bodies are gender balanced and said they should take steps to tackle the gender pay gap in median salary, which is currently 13.7% in the higher education sector.