Sexism in academia

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Sexism in academia refers to the discrimination and subordination of a particular sex in academic institutions, particularly universities, due to the ideologies, practices and reinforcements that privilege one sex over another. Sexism in academia is not limited to but primarily affects women who are denied the professional achievements awarded to men in their respective fields such as positions, tenure and awards.[1]


There is controversy over whether women's under-representation in specific academic fields is the result of gender discrimination or of other factors such as personal inclination.[2][3] Some individuals have argued that there are equal opportunities for women and men in sciences and that sexism no longer exists in these fields.[4][5] Researchers note that as of 2015, women had closed the undergraduate degree gap for several STEM fields including both the social and biological sciences, but women only accounted for approximately 20% of the computer science and engineering undergraduate degree holders. Likewise, at the master's and doctoral level, the number of STEM degrees obtained by women had increased for many fields; however, only 27% of the master's degrees and 23% of the doctoral degrees in computer science and engineering were held by women.[6] These claims of equal opportunity in scientific fields of academia are often attributed to women's "preference" and inclination for other fields of study and to teaching instead of research. However, such claims do not take into account that gender is central to the organization of higher education.[7] This might explain women's under-representation in academia at more senior levels, and the way in which the organization of higher education institutions might be structurally disadvantaging women by the institutionalization, practice, and valuing of masculinity which ends up reinforcing hegemonic masculinities.[8][7][9] Women are not represented in senior jobs in the humanities even though most students in these fields are women.[10]


Women are underrepresented in tenured positions. From 2001 to 2009, women averaged 35% of all full-time faculty with tenure and 43% of all full-time faculty in non-tenure track positions in comparison to men's 50% and 32%, respectively.[11] A case study performed by the Pennsylvania State University in 2006 attributes a majority of this gap to familial commitments and the avoidance strategies they create among faculty members.[12] For instance, it takes approximately between five to seven years for a faculty member to be considered for the position of associate professor with tenure; this system limits caregiving and family responsibilities until tenure is achieved, so faculty members may choose to delay marriage, parenthood, etc. until the desired position is acquired.[12] In particular, the careers of female academics are greatly hindered because the workplace tends to favor a male's career path. The travel, possibility of relocation and vigorous work schedules limit the participation of females due to family conflicts.[13] A 2006 national survey, reported 16% of female faculty remained single because they did not have time for both a family and a successful career; of the female faculty who were parents, 17.2% chose to have one child but delayed even considering another until they had acquired their desired position.[12] These challenges associated with balancing work life and family life raise questions regarding the influence both marriage and motherhood have on the academic positions available to wives and mothers at colleges and universities.[14] Despite the increased support for family-friendly policies in the academic workplace, few have yet to be utilized fully. Many academies support paid parental leave, tenure-clock stoppage and flexible schedules; however, few faculty members of either sex choose to take advantage of these policies for fear of being penalized by their departments despite the institution's approval.[15]


Women are less likely to win academic awards. For instance, there are 48 women Nobel Prize winners, compared to 844 men.[16] About two-thirds of these winners won a Nobel Prize for a humanities discipline, not a science discipline.[17] In most scientific disciplines, a small portion of women full professors are nominated for awards compared to the number of women in the field.[18] The Recognition of the Achievements of Women In Science, Medicine, and Engineering (RAISE) project have reported that the women represent 8.6% of Lasker Award winners.[19]

Women of color in academia[edit]

Women of color face specific issues related to sexism in academia as well. One such problem is referred to as the "Chilly Climate" problem, wherein, because women of color are infrequent in academia, they are often isolated and face a lack of institutional support.[20] Additionally, because women of color's bodies are both viewed racially and in terms of their gender in academia, their voices and identities are often overlooked through "elite racism", as coined by Allen, Epps, Guillory, Suh, and Bonous-Hammarth (2000). Because women of color in academia are sometimes minorities in regards to their colleagues as well as their students, it is suggested that they feel the aforementioned isolation, racism, and sexism from both groups.

Women of color in academia are not only seemingly ostracized by their colleagues, but by their students as well. Women faculty of color reported having their authority questioned and challenged, their teaching competency questioned and their knowledge and experience disrespected by their students. White male students were also seen to behave more aggressively towards these women and would also employ intimidating behaviors.[21]

According to the National Science Foundation's 2015 survey of Doctorate recipients, only 40.41% of U.S. doctorate scientists employed in teaching positions were women, 61,750 out of a sample of 152,800. Of the female population, 75.95% were White, 11.01% were Asian, 5.34% were Hispanic or Latino, 5.67% were Black or African American, 0.32% were American Indian or Alaskan Native, and 1.62% constituted other races, including Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and those who marked multiple races who were not Hispanic or Latino. In addition, Asian women held 3% of tenured positions, Latinas 2.4%, and Black women 2.3% according to a 2015 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics.[22]

Women in academic publishing[edit]

In many academic disciplines, women receive less credit for their research than men.[23][24][25][26] This trend is especially pronounced in engineering fields. A study published in 2015 by Gita Ghiasi, Vincent Lariviere, and Cassidy Sugimoto demonstrates that women represent 20% of all scientific production in the field of engineering. The study examined 679,338 engineering articles published between 2008 and 2013, and it analyzed the collaborative networks among 974,837 authors. Ghiasi et al. created networking diagrams, depicting the frequency of collaboration among authors, and the success of each collaboration was measured by the number of times the study was cited. The collaboration networks illustrate that mixed-gender teams have a higher average rate of productivity and citations, yet 50% of male engineers have collaborated only with other men and 38% of female engineers have collaborated only with men. The researchers use impact factors—the average annual number of citation that a journal receives—to measure the prestige of academic journals. Their study shows that when women publish their research in journals with high-impact factors, they receive fewer citations from the engineering community.[23] The authors explain their findings as a possible consequence of the "Matilda effect", a phenomenon that systematically undervalues the scientific contributions of women.

In addition to engineering, a gender bias in publishing is exemplified in economics. In 2015, Heather Sarsons released a working paper comparing credit allocated to men and women in collaborative research.[24] Sarsons analyzed the publication records of economists at top universities over the past 40 years, and found that female economists publish work as frequently as their male cohorts, yet their tenure prospects are less than half that of men. Women receive comparable credit to men when they solo author their work or co-author with other female economist, evinced by a 8–9% increase in their tenure prospects, implying that tenure prospects decrease with collaborative work due to lack of credit given to women, not the quality of their work. Men receive the same amount of credit for solo authoring and co-authoring their work, shown by a 8–9% increase in their tenure prospects; however, when women co-author with men, there is no increase in their tenure prospects.

In the academic disciplines of political science and international relations, research has found evidence of gender bias in publishing and teaching. The Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) project gathers data and publishes analysis on the discipline of international relations.[27] In 2013, a study published by Daniel Maliniak, Ryan Powers and Barbara F. Walter used TRIP data from peer-reviewed publications between 1980 and 2006 to show that women are systematically cited less than men after controlling for a number of variables including year and venue of publication, substantive focus, theoretical perspective, methodology, tenure status, and institutional affiliation.[28] In a 2017 study on publishing patterns in political science journals, Dawn Langan Teele and Kathleen Thelen found that women authors are underrepresented compared to the share of women working in the profession, are not benefiting from the trend toward co-authored publications (dominated by all-male author teams), and lose out from the methodological partiality of top journals in the field.[29] Activism aimed at uprooting gender bias in academic publishing and teaching has increased over the years and has led to initiatives such as #womenalsoknowstuff[30], #womenalsoknowhistory[31], and Jane Lawrence Sumner's Gender Balance Assessment Tool (GBAT)[32]. In 2015, Jeff Colgan conducted an analysis of American post-graduate international relations syllabi and found that 82% of assigned reading was written by all-male authors.[33] At the London School of Economics, a student-led body called the Gender and Diversity Project (GDP) conducted a similar assessment of syllabi from the full teaching curriculum in the International Relations department from 2015 to 2016. The results, published in 2018 (see Kiran Phull, Gokhan Ciflikli and Gustav Meibauer[34]), revealed that 79.2% of assigned reading from all undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate syllabi was authored exclusively by male authors, with the undergraduate curriculum being the least gender-diverse.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Savigny, Heather (2014). "Women, know your limits: cultural sexism in academia". Gender & Education. 26 – via EBSCO.
  2. ^ Bird, Sharon (March 2011). "Unsettling Universities' Incongruous, Gendered Bureaucratic Structures: A Case-study Approach". Gender, Work & Organization. 18 (2): 202–230. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0432.2009.00510.x.
  3. ^ Pinker, Steven (2002). The blank slate : the denial of human nature in modern intellectual life. New York: Viking. pp. ch 18. ISBN 978-0-670-03151-1.
  4. ^ Dickey, Z (2011). "Science gender gap probed". Nature. 470 (7333): 153. doi:10.1038/470153a. PMID 21307907.
  5. ^ Gilbert, N (2012). "Equal prospects for both sexes in science". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2012.10053.
  6. ^ "Degree Attainment - Research and Trends for Women in STEM". Research and Trends for Women in STEM. 2016-08-17. Retrieved 2018-09-25.
  7. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference :12 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  8. ^ Cite error: The named reference :02 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  9. ^ Wolffensberger, J (1993). "Science is truly a male world: The interconnectedness of knowledge, gender and power within university education". Gender and Education. 5: 37–54. doi:10.1080/0954025930050103.
  10. ^ American Psychological Association (2000). "Women in academe: Two steps forward, one step back".
  11. ^ Curtis, John (2011-04-11). "Persistent Inequity: Gender and Academic Employment" (PDF). American Association of University Professors. Retrieved 2018-10-02.
  12. ^ a b c Drago, Robert; Colbeck, Carol L.; Stauffer, Kai Dawn; Pirretti, Amy; Burkum, Kurt; Fazioli, Jennifer; Lazzaro, Gabriela; Habasevich, Tara (2006-05). "The Avoidance of Bias Against Caregiving". American Behavioral Scientist. 49: 1222–1247. ISSN 0002-7642 – via EBSCOhost. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. ^ Fothergill, Alice; Feltey, Kathryn. ""I've Worked Very Hard and Slept Very Little": Mothers on Tenure Track in Academia". Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering. 5 – via Google Scholar.
  14. ^ Perna, Laura W. (2001). "The Relationship Between Family Responsibilities and Employment Status Among College and University Faculty" (PDF). The Journal of Higher Education. 72 (5): 584–611. doi:10.2307/2672882 – via JSTOR.
  15. ^ Bassett, Rachel Hile (2005). Parenting and Professing: Balancing Family Work with an Academic Career. Vanderbilt University Press. ISBN 9780826514783.
  16. ^ "Nobel Prize Facts".
  17. ^ "Nobel Prize Awarded Women".
  18. ^ "Scholar's awards mainly go to men". Nature. 27 January 2011.
  19. ^ Leboy, Phoebe (1 January 2008). "Fixing the Leaky Pipeline". The Scientist.
  20. ^ Ford, Kristie A. (2011). "Race, Gender, and Bodily (Mis)Recognitions: Women of Color Faculty Experiences with White Students in the College Classroom". The Journal of Higher Education. 82 (4): 444–478. JSTOR 29789534.
  21. ^ Pittman, Chavella T. (2010). "Race and Gender Oppression in the Classroom: The Experiences of Women Faculty of Color with White Male Students". Teaching Sociology. 38 (3): 183–196. JSTOR 27896528.
  22. ^ National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Enrollment and employees in postsecondary institutions
  23. ^ a b Ghiasi, Gita; Larivière, Vincent; Sugimoto, Cassidy R. (2015). "On The Compliance Of Women Engineers With A Gendered Scientific System". PLOS ONE. 10 (12): 1–19. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0145931. PMC 4696668. PMID 26716831.
  24. ^ a b 1. Sarsons, Heather. "Gender Differences in Recognition of Group Work". Harvard University. 2015.
  25. ^ Jenkins, Fiona (2014). "Epistemic Credibility And Women In Philosophy". Australian Feminist Studies. 29 (80): 161–170. doi:10.1080/08164649.2014.928190.
  26. ^ Rigg, Lesley S.; McCarragher, Shannon; Krmenec, Andrew (2012). "Authorship, Collaboration, And Gender: Fifteen Years Of Publication Productivity In Selected Geography Journals". Professional Geographer. 64 (4): 491–502. doi:10.1080/00330124.2011.611434.
  27. ^ "Home | Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP)". Retrieved 2018-09-04.
  28. ^ Maliniak, Daniel; Powers, Ryan; Walter, Barbara F. (2013/10). "The Gender Citation Gap in International Relations". International Organization. 67 (4): 889–922. doi:10.1017/S0020818313000209. ISSN 0020-8183. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  29. ^ Teele, Dawn Langan; Thelen, Kathleen (2017/04). "Gender in the Journals: Publication Patterns in Political Science". PS: Political Science & Politics. 50 (2): 433–447. doi:10.1017/S1049096516002985. ISSN 1049-0965. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  30. ^ "Women Also Know Stuff". Retrieved 2018-09-04.
  31. ^ "Women Also Know History". Women Also Know History. Retrieved 2018-09-04.
  32. ^ "Gender Balance Assessment Tool (GBAT)". Retrieved 2018-09-04.
  33. ^ "New Evidence on Gender Bias in IR Syllabi | Duck of Minerva". Retrieved 2018-09-04.
  34. ^ Phull, Kiran; Ciflikli, Gokhan; Meibauer, Gustav (2018-08-20). "Gender and bias in the International Relations curriculum: Insights from reading lists". European Journal of International Relations: 135406611879169. doi:10.1177/1354066118791690. ISSN 1354-0661.

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