THE Scholarly Web - 21 March 2013

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

March 21, 2013

Following International Women’s Day (8 March), bloggers took to the web to discuss gender equality in higher education.

“Giving women in academia genuine equal opportunities” was one such example, penned by Ingrid Robeyns, professor in practical philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam, and posted on the Crooked Timber blog.

“I’m not talking about affirmative action or quota, but rather making…the environment more welcoming to women, the formal practices fairer to women, and the informal practices such that they are less disadvantageous for women,” she writes.

“I increasingly encounter academics (mostly men, I fear) who think that there are no further issues with the environment/procedures/practices, and who believe that in reality women now get better chances in academia than men.”

This is not so, Professor Robeyns says, highlighting a number of areas in which women are at a disadvantage in the academy.

“One cause is the effects of implicit bias,” she says, “which implies that if a piece of work is being done by women, it will be judged [to be] of lower quality than exactly the same piece of work done by men, due to non- conscious associations we hold.”

Similarly, certain personality traits are judged positively if seen in a man, and less positively if seen in a woman, she writes. “A typical case is being assertive, which is in men seen as a sign of leadership, but in women quickly interpreted as being aggressive.”

There will be no improvement in women’s position in academia, she adds, “if academics in positions of power and authority…will not fully understand the workings of implicit bias, including some of the empirical research that documents implicit bias.”

Women also encounter networking and mentoring problems in academia, her blog continues. “Due to the fact that there are many more senior male academics than senior female academics (supervisors, lecturers, professors, it is much harder for a young female academic to find a mentor of the same sex.”

Another problem with fields of study in which there are only a handful of women is that they are asked to serve on all committees, “since it is in itself a good thing to have more gender-balanced committees”, Professor Robeyns continues.

“But if you only have 10%-15% female full professors…then it means that [they] will be called upon much more to serve on committees, giving them less time for their teaching and research…Virtually every female professor I’ve discussed this with has the same experience.”

Molly Shoichet, professor of chemical engineering and applied chemistry at the University of Toronto, used the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation blog to write a post entitled “For International Women’s Day: What every girl should know about a science career”.

In it, she highlights how enjoyable her own work is, and urges female students to give serious consideration to a science career.

“I am very excited to be pursuing a career in science because every day I go to work and learn something new,” she says. “Every day we advance knowledge and gain new insights. By designing new approaches and gaining new insights, we aim to advance knowledge towards clinical application.”

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