Gender in the Academy

Gender & Society in the Classroom: Gender in the Academy

Organized by: Deeb Kitchen, Florida Gulf Coast University

This review covers research pertaining to gender in the academy while focusing on the relationship between knowledge and power. This collection covers both the ways gender factors into academic knowledge production as well as gender’s influence on academics’ careers. These works focus primarily on university settings and highlight the ways institutions of higher education simultaneously exhibit gender inequality within them and function to reproduce it in the societies they are part of. These inequalities are visible in current academic career paths, institutional labor practices, cultural norms, trends in scholarship, and curriculum.

Because of the authority bestowed upon academic work, particularly in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (the STEM fields) and the recognition that more contributions from women are needed, debates that often occur regarding how to incorporate and retain female participation. As a result, many of these pieces either offer prescriptions for these problems or have implications for policy makers.

Fox, Mary Frank. 2001. Women, science, and academia: Graduate education and careers. Gender & Society 15(5):654-666.

This article utilizes academic science as a site for examining gender inequality within society because of the influence it wields in shaping social relations and the stake governments have in it as a result of this influence and the costs it entails. Furthermore, since the qualities of rationality, objectivity and control that are closely associated with scientific inquiry are more typically ascribed to men than to women, it simultaneously reflects and reinforces gender inequality. The author explores the social and organizational context of science in relation to gender and social standing by addressing three questions. First, what is the status of women in scientific careers and what is the role of graduate education in these careers? Second, what are the implications for an analysis of gender? Third, where and how can we intervene? The results show that in spite of increasing numbers of females earning doctorate degrees in the sciences, from top tier schools, they have not advanced to the highest professional ranks at the same pace. This discrepancy occurs across all scientific fields, but it is most pronounced in the physical sciences. Women achieve full professorships in psychology at nearly twice the rate as in the physical sciences. The gender dynamics in academic departments, research groups, and advisor-student relationships all privilege men in ways that minimize women’s contributions and achievements by favoring standards most closely associated with men. All of this limits women’s abilities to demonstrate success in their fields and consequently, in society. The interventions seen as most promising are those that reorganize academic departments, establish new standards for rewarding and sanctioning work, and redistribute resources.

Nunez, Marta. 2003. Gender studies in Cuba: Methodological approaches, 1974-2001. Gender & Society 17(1):7-32.

Through interviews with twenty-four scholars studying gender in Havana, Cuba over the last quarter of the twentieth century, Nunez documents the various approaches social scientists use. She focuses on their conceptualizations of gender, their methodological orientations, the specific methods they use, no-Cuban authors who influence their work, and the social context within which their research emerged. She focuses more on how they do their work rather than on the content of it. This analysis is admittedly collaborative. She allowed her participants to influence this research while it was being produced. For example, she modified her interviews when they suggested alternative questions. Nunez finds that the marginalization of women and homosexuals is the primary motivator for these scholars to study of gender. They see their research as part of a struggle for social justice. They also aim to develop a scientific understanding of society, which they see as aiding in their cause.  All of the participants adhere to an eclectic approach to research, drawing on an array of literature and experiences. They are all familiar with the Soviet versions of Marxism, but they expressed a preference for drawing upon the classical and contemporary Marxist works. The participants almost universally employ both quantitative and qualitative methods, but they favor qualitative approaches. This is because they see them as superior for understanding subjective experiences. Quantitative data is typically used to contextualize their qualitative research. Nunez concludes with methodological suggestions her participants offer for students of gender: view gender as relational and embedded in power structures, avoid forcing your ideologies on participants in order to privilege their role in the research process, use multiple methods, and be open to changing your mind. 

Leahey, Erin. 2006. Gender differences in productivity: Research specialization as a missing link. Gender & Society 20(6):754-780.

In this article, Leahey investigates the significance of research specialization in explaining gender differences in productivity levels among academic scientists. Her basic premise is that specialization as a variable has not received sufficient attention from scholars examining how gender influences academic careers. Instead, they have focused more on institutional-level factors. What is more, work examining specialization tends to concentrate on areas of specialization rather than on the extent of specialization, regardless of field of study. Using sociology and linguistics as the windows through which she looks, the author studies how frequently researchers engage in inquiry on the same substantive issues. She finds that women’s bodies of work are characterized by more breadth than their male colleagues. Women in academia specialize less than men do which diminishes their productivity. These measures of productivity are limited, and this study neglects other effects of specialization on matters such as institutional mobility, visibility in the field, job offers, salary, or career satisfaction. Leahey recognizes that more research on this topic that examines different outcomes is needed in order to craft a theory of specialization in work or to inform policy or career planning projects.

Whittington, Kjersten Bunker, and Laurel Smith-Doerr. 2008. Women inventors in context: Disparities in patenting across academia and industry. Gender & Society 22(2):194-218.

In this paper Whittington and Smith-Doer examine the sex differences in commercial productivity of scientists in relation to the institutional contexts they work within. They measure productivity through patenting rates. This is research expands previous research that primarily focuses on academic settings and characteristics of individual scientists by focusing on how organizational logic perpetuates inequalities among men and women. In general, data show that women are less likely to patent than their male colleagues, but when examining institutional settings, namely biotechnology firms, that feature “flatter, more flexible, network-based organizational structures” than academia or most industry, these differences disappear. Possible reasons for this are that flatter social relations provide for greater levels of teamwork that enhances the retention and therefore performance of women scientists, flatter social relations reduce discrepancies in the distribution of resources needed to conduct work, and these settings provide more management opportunities for females than academia which allows greater access to collaboration partners and information on the patenting process. This research has implications for all those making efforts to increase women’s participation and professional success in the sciences, but it also has ramifications for society more broadly. If we are to accept that the patented products produced will benefit society then it is important, these authors argue, to understand how to create a population of practitioners and inventors that more closely resembles the population as a whole.

Winslow, Sarah. 2010. Gender inequality and time allocations among academic faculty. Gender & Society 24(6):769-793.

This article investigates gender inequality in academia by comparing male and female faculty members’ time allocation. It focuses on teaching and research, how these are conceptualized and which they prefer. Winslow draws upon survey data collected from a national sample of postsecondary faculty in 1999. The author measures actual time allocation (percentage of time spent teaching and percentage of time spent conducting research) time allocation preferences (percentage of their workweeks faculty members would like to spend on teaching and research) time allocation mismatches (differences between preference and actual time spent on teaching and research) and sex (measured as male or female). The author controls for various aspects of work such as rank, discipline, and type of institution. The results of Winslow’s analysis show: (1) women would prefer to devote more of their time to teaching as opposed to men who favor research; (2) women actually spend more time teaching, and these differences cannot be attributed to educational attainment or types of institutions; (3) there is a greater difference between women’s preferred time allocations than men’s. These finding shed light on issues of gender inequality with regards to job satisfaction, productivity, and faculty recruitment and retention.

Fox, Mary Franklin, Gerhard Sonnert, and Irina Nikiforova. 2011. Programs for undergraduate women in science and engineering: Issues, problems and solutions. Gender & Society 25(5):589-615.

Using survey data gathered from 49 directors of undergraduate-level programs in the U.S. for women in science and engineering, these authors examine how such programs articulate and frame existing issues and problems, as well as solutions and strategies for improving access and participation for women. They identify four patterns: definitions of issues women in science and engineering must deal with, solutions put forward, stated goals as well the directors’ view on achieving them, and structural features of the programs in relation to their broader institutional setting of higher education. In general, they find that directors frame the subjects in terms of individual women, not as the products of relationships that are formed and influenced by the organizational or institutional contexts they are parts of. These findings illustrate some of the hurdles programs designed to enhance female participation in the sciences and engineering face. Moreover, it suggests reasons as to why so many of them come up short and fail to realize their goals. 

Rhoton, Laura A. 2011. Distancing as a gendered barrier: Understanding women scientists’ gender practices. Gender & Society 25(6):696-716.

Using interview data, the author explores how the gender practices of female scientists perpetuate and heighten gender barriers to advancement and acceptance within their disciplines. Women working in academic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) often find that cultural norms, expectations, and the image of the ideal scientist as dispassionate, objective and career-oriented promote behaviors that are most readily associated with men, devalue femininity and therefore restrict the range of acceptable behaviors for those working in the field. Through developing professional identities that make use of these norms and expectations, female scientists distinguish themselves from women who do not embody them. This is done by distancing themselves from practices deemed feminine and denying the existence or prevalence of gender inequality. By doing this, women reinforce the marginalization of other women as well as their work. This presents a contradiction. Although these gender behaviors may help to advance these women’s careers, they also entrench and strengthen the barriers to their success as female scientists. Ultimately, this functions to hamper change efforts as well as to maintain and legitimize gender inequality within the STEM fields.