The internally funded Anne McLaren Fellowships at The University of Nottingham state in their eligibility that "Candidates for the Anne McLaren Fellowships must be female and pursuing a career in a STEM subject". (link) One of the benefits of the fellowship is

The linking of the Fellowship to an indefinite academic post, subject to performance against a high-quality threshold and the continued right to work in the UK

What this means is that fellows will be presented 2 contracts. The first is a 3-year fixed term research only contract with a start date mutually agreed upon by the university and fellow. The second contract is a permanent research and teaching contract with a start date immediately following the end of the first contract. The second contract has stipulations regarding if you get terminated during the first contract (e.g., due to a loss of the right to work in the UK or performance issues) then the second contract is also terminated. There is no hiring process at the time of the second contract.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from being treated less favourably because of their gender during recruitment. Section 159 of the Act does allow positive action (e.g. favouring an underrepresented group in a tie-break) but as those not classed as female are completely excluded from applying then this appears to be unlawful discrimination not positive action.

It could be that The University of Nottingham has a general exception due to being a charity. But then it would need to be included in the aim of the charity and the University's Charter of Incorporation contains "16. The University shall treat students, staff and other people solely on the basis of their merits, abilities and potential, regardless of gender".

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    @JeromyAnglim it is called a fellowship, but it is linked to a permanent faculty position. It is in the link, I will edit something in.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 21 '16 at 0:53
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    I assume that the University of Nottingham would have been "lawyered up" before they embarked on this scheme and before their HR department approved the wording in the description. So while one is obviously free to "report it to the appropriate authorities" I think the odds are against the complaint being up held. Of course, depending on one's aims, the outcome may matter less than the complaint
    – Yemon Choi
    Oct 21 '16 at 11:47
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    @YemonChoi I used to work at Nottingham so know the history pretty well. I am not sure how lawyered up they are. The fellowship used to not have a permanent job linked to it. Schools/departments then started to offer a permanent position with it to attract better candidates. The university then made it a requirement since all the schools were doing it anyways. It wouldn't surprise me if they did not consult legal advice about it.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 21 '16 at 14:04
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    Can someone who is familiar with this fellowship please explain the meaning of "the linking of the Fellowship to an indefinite academic post"? Does it mean that after the fellowship ends one will be considered for a full-time position? Is the promotion automatic if the evaluation is positive? Does it go through an evaluation with other candidates? Oct 21 '16 at 16:27
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    I asked a related question at law.SE
    – StrongBad
    Oct 21 '16 at 20:36

In the UK, there are a number of fellowships exclusively for women (e.g., L'Oréal WISE fellowship). The Equality Act of 2010 allows for positive action outside of recruitment which these fellowships likely fall under. The Equality Act of 2010, however, does not allow for positive action in recruitment (apart from giving preference for equally qualified applicants).

The Anne McLaren Fellowship is a little strange in that it is a fellowship that is linked to a permanent job. If you view it as a fellowship, it legal positive action. If you view it as a job, it is illegal positive action. I think the key thing is that when the school is making a decision about the job, the gender of the applicant is not considered. It is obviously very relevant to the school that the applicant has a fellowship as generous as the Anne McLaren fellowship, but the fact that the fellowship is limited to women does not matter in the hiring process. So the Equality Act of 2010 is likely not being violated.

Providing fellowships that only women are eligible for may go against the university charter or may be illegal in some other manner, but I do not think it runs afoul of the Equality Act of 2010.

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    So basically they found a loophole? There's a job that accepts all genders but requires membership in women only fellowship, is that it? Oct 21 '16 at 10:08
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    In response to the previous comment, I would argue that the "loophole" is about increasing the proportion of good female applicants in a pool of applicants for the eventual permanent position. So no, the job at the end does not "require" all applicants to have come through this pathway
    – Yemon Choi
    Oct 21 '16 at 11:43
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    @YemonChoi The "loophole" is still about disregarding roughly half of the population based solely on their gender, which is wrong regardless of which gender is being discriminated.
    – krillgar
    Oct 21 '16 at 13:35
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    @krillgar there is no loop hole. The law explicitly says positive action like the fellowship is allowed. The direct result of the positive action is that women become very well qualified for positions. Whether you like it or not does not matter, that is how the system was designed to work. To term an intentionally designed feature a "loop hole" is inappropriate. Rather, you should be asking why the system was designed that way.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 21 '16 at 13:53
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    @StrongBad I agree. I only used the term because of the previous comments.
    – krillgar
    Oct 21 '16 at 15:49

Such fellowship is a strategy to promote diversity in academia by encouraging participation from underrepresented groups of people. The underlying motive here is the general acceptance that diversity correlates with productivity. The fact is that women are underrepresented in STEM subjects. A striking example is two years ago, when only 2 out of 43 recipients of Royal Society University Research Fellowship were women. Even if we accept this as an anomaly, on the whole only 20% of all URF recipients are women. Even if the whole evaluation process has been fair and unbiased, such statistic does seem to suggest that women have not been given a fair chance to succeed in science.

I think the relevant part of the Equality Act 2010 here is Part 11 concerning advancement of equality, which states that if "participation in an activity by persons who share a protected characteristic is disproportionately low", then "treating a person (A) more favourably in connection with recruitment or promotion than another person (B) because A has the protected characteristic but B does not" is not prohibited. In accordance with this, the offer of such fellowship to women only is a positive action, rather than unlawful discrimination towards others who are not women. The number of awards offered for non women are presumably the same, so non women are not disadvantaged in any way. It would be a different case if the number of awards for these other general fellowships is cut. This would perhaps go against the provision of the Act.

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    In the UK (and EU in general) positive action is illegal.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 20 '16 at 21:13
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    @StrongBad, the Equality Act allows it, as the OP pointed out. Section 158 I think caters for this very issue.
    – adipro
    Oct 20 '16 at 22:21
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    Okay, I think I get it now. The Equality Act 2010 appears to be the relevant reason why women only fellowships are allow. In terms of recruitment, which is what this question is about, the Act does not allow positive action (apart from equally qualified candidates).
    – StrongBad
    Oct 20 '16 at 23:11
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    I think the issue is that Nottingham is pushing the boundaries. They are offering a women only fellowship that guarantees them a job. In essence they have created a job that only women can apply to.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 20 '16 at 23:20
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    @StrongBad, as I understand it, the positive action as defined by the Act always requires the persons to be equally qualified. Otherwise, it does not constitute a positive action. I think the underlying problem is that there are too few awards sought by too many equally qualified men and women. The number of women applying is already low. The most obvious way to increase the proportion of women fellows in academia is to open up women-only awards.
    – adipro
    Oct 20 '16 at 23:38

There is a long tradition of grants, fellowships, bursaries etc which have very specific eligibility requirements

These are usually charitable bequests from an individual or organisation and are more like gift or inheritance than an offer of employment.

The very fact that it is called the Anne McLaren fellowship implies that it is funded by an individual bequest and just administered by the university ie it is effectively a gift given to a person who fulfils specific criteria.

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    But the Anne McLaren is different. The money is not a gift, but top sliced off of the budgets of the eligible schools. Recipients get a permanent faculty job at the end.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 21 '16 at 0:09

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