Gender and Academia

Although not of global significance in the “Climate change is a global problem” sense, the following certainly pertains to the struggle of social injustice and discrimination.

For many years, women in academia have received the short end of the stick – although the undergraduate population in many institutions around the world has equal numbers of men and women, fewer faculty positions are held by women. For example, in Europe the ratio of men to women full professorships is 5.5:1, compared to a 1:1 undergraduate population.

Europe isn’t alone in all this. MIT has received a ton of flack over gender discrimination during the past decade (just check out this Google News search).

So what gives?

Recently, two studies have recently been published to explain these disparate numbers:

The lack of role models problem can be viewed as the egg….or the chicken…to the lack of women (and visible minorities) in the upper echelons of academia:

A cycle is perpetuated. Minorities are less likely to enter and remain in science and engineering when they lack mentors and role models. In most science and engineering disciplines, the percentage of URMs among faculty recently hired is not comparable to that of recent minority Ph.D.s. and is far below that of recent BS recipients. This results in fewer minority faculty to act as role models for minority students….If minority professors are not hired, treated fairly, and retained, minority students perceive that they will experience the same. This will not encourage them to persist in that discipline.

The latter reason was just published by the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and, “investigated various aspects of how a scientist’s gender influences selection processes and careers” with respect to long-term fellowships.

Basically, men published more often than women – now the question is why?

Could the small gap between men and women with regard to their publications at the end of their PhD period be the consequence of a similar social/family arrangement as revealed above by the survey of the former LTF applicants? We investigated this possibility with a questionnaire sent to the applicants of the EMBO fellowships programme from autumn 2006. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found similar trends in the working habits of these young scientists, although not as pronounced as with the older group. Again, we found that more female applicants had moved to suit their partners’ careers, tended to work fewer hours than their partners, even at the PhD stage, and provided the smaller percentage of the family income (Table 3). In other words, even at the PhD level, women already balance career and family commitments, and this presumably affects their research.

Any thoughts from Terry social scientists?

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: davidsemeniuk.com

4 Responses to “Gender and Academia”

  1. Kerrie

    I think an additional problem is the length of time it takes to get your Ph.D. As an IR graduate who is about to go to graduate school and eventually get a doctorate, I can say that I am not even considering Canadian schools at this moment. It’s not because I don’t think they are good schools, but because of the longer time it takes to graduate. I don’t think I should be made to choose between completing a doctorate -or- having a child before 35. This might not have been a problem if my field was English Literature-but in International Development, it is essential to gain a great deal of exposure to the way of life overseas, working in harsh environments not suitable for young kids. Textbook knowledge must be combined with life experience. I’m not even 25 but I know if I don’t rush to fit it all in, I may end up having to choose between having kids and having the swashbuckling social justice career I deserve. Previous generations of women have fought for my ability to choose. My generation will fight, probably unsuccessfully, for our ability to have both just like men get!

    I have met many amazing career women who are now completing their master’s studies-at the same time as their own children! Of course their husbands all have Ph.D’s. Even when women have supportive partners, the best that they can hope for in balancing their families and careers/studies is equality. The best that academic men can hope for is privilege. Until the family roles change drastically, and/or Canadian universities provide accelerated timeframes for highly motivated students, I will be looking to the UK’s 2+2 schemes for my graduate studies. Personally, I am willing to pay several times the tuition for this advantage.

  2. Brenda

    I strongly agree with Kerrie, and I’m not even 20. I’m planning to get a doctorate for family counselling/therapy (school until age 30, woohoo), and it’s grossly unjust to potentially be put in the situation where I will resent either my job or my child for losing out on the other.
    I have to mention the stigma of a woman being childless, the trends that show women “do gender” by spending more effort on housework when they earn a relatively higher income than their husbands (while the husbands do less), and the increasing level of “intense parenting” that’s expected … and so on. There’s every obstacle for women (and indeed, women of visible minorities) wanting to reach (and remain in) higher levels of their professions, including academia, and the ways out are just way too convenient.

  3. Kerrie

    Cultural expectations also play a role, and I expect that to change as more academic role models become available. As one of the top students and leaders at my high school, all my friends and school counselors told me what a great school teacher I’d make. No one mentioned higher education-that was all up to me to figure out. While I absolutely respect and honour the essential role of school teachers, only one-ONE- of the adults in my life mentioned a non-traditional career (he told me I should be a politician, although to be fair I laughed at that).

    When men study a discipline they are considered to be intellectuals. Women are considered to be “hard workers” but are not given creative or intellectual credit. After a few years at UBC, I started to question WHY Romeo Dallaire got a bigger reception than the incredible Esther Mujawayo, WHY it is that when Jeffrey Sacks or Joseph Stiglitz writes something in defence of basic human principles we all drop everything to go worship them when brilliant African women like Molara Ogundipe remain in obscurity. As a future academic, I’m not going to be forgetting lessons like that, and I plan to use my academic capabilities to create a system that is less blatantly racist, elitist, and male-oriented in nature.

    Brenda, good luck! (also, I’ve heard if you don’t smoke and try to keep healthy you can reliably have healthy babies up to 40;)

  4. Kerrie

    Oh shoot, that’s Jeffrey Sachs. *ahem* as I was saying about my extreme intellectual ability…

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