Change male academics to create gender parity, universities told

Institutions have long framed gender inequality as a problem with women, and have been ‘strangely silent’ about masculinity in academia, professor argues

October 16, 2020
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Universities should challenge male academics to change their attitudes and behaviour if they want to achieve equality, instead of placing the onus on women, a conference on gender stereotypes and science has heard.

Jeff Hearn, professor of gender studies at Örebro University in Sweden, said that universities were “strangely silent” about masculinity in academia, despite reams of policy documents that attempted to diagnose why women were underrepresented in certain subjects and in senior management.

“It’s very important to say that gender inequality in academia and research concerns all,” he told Gender Roles and their Impact in Academia, an online conference hosted by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. “We’re talking about also changing men.”

Universities often spoke about gender equality “as if research institutions and universities are gender neutral” by default, he said, but instead, they need to “name men as men”, he told delegates.

Typically, institutions will set targets or quotas for the number of women on powerful boards or committees. But in a recent book chapter, Professor Hearn flips this formulation on its head and suggests universities talk about a maximum number of men.

“Debates about gender in academia have typically focused on women and girls, as when discussing why more girls do not take up science, engineering and technology subjects,” he argues in The Gender-Sensitive University, released earlier this year. While there is a discussion of “failing boys” at the school level, “men in academia remain unproblematised”.

Academia had been “a bit slow” to acknowledge that gender equality requires change from men, not just women, something long acknowledged in gender studies, Professor Hearn told Times Higher Education.

In practice, this might mean using university gender training sessions to scrutinise how male academics behave rather than only addressing the barriers faced by women, he added. This could include calling out stereotypical male academic behaviour, such as dogmatism, hogging meeting time, talking over others and listening only to other men.

It also means dissecting the identities male researchers themselves have – for example, asking whether an emphasis on competition drives an unhealthy, long-hours culture, Professor Hearn said. This could even help male academics liberate themselves from the sometimes-crushing pressures of academia. “Men also want to have family and personal lives,” he said.

Conference delegates also heard evidence that male attitudes towards women in science are changing only very slowly. Asked to draw a scientist, the vast majority of boys still draw men, a pattern that had remained largely unchanged for decades, according to Alice Eagly, an emeritus psychology professor at Northwestern University.

Girls, on the other hand, had switched from drawing male scientists to female scientists, she showed. “The women are doing the changing,” she said.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

Are they advocating equality of opportunity or equality of outcome?
Good question!
Achieving 'equality' (whatever that means) is something that all people irrespective of gender should be working together for: it isn't the responsibility of any one gender to do all the work. That's as divisive as perceptions of the current situation peddled by the shrill... or used as an excuse by those who haven't been quite good enough to get that position or that promotion. It's a lot easier than admitting the other candidate was better than you were.

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