Gender Equality in Academia: Bad News from the Trenches, and Some Possible Solutions

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Is there gender discrimination in academia? Analysis of interviews with 80 female faculty at a large Research One university-the most comprehensive qualitative data set generated to date-suggests both individual and institutional discrimination persists. Overt discrimination has largely given way to less obvious but still deeply entrenched inequities. Despite apparent increases in women in positions of authority, discrimination continues to manifest itself through gender devaluation, a process whereby the status and power of an authoritative position is downplayed when that position is held by a woman, and through penalties for those agitating for political change. Female faculty find legal mechanisms and direct political action of limited utility, and increasingly turn to more subtle forms of incremental collective action, revealing an adaptive response to discrimination and a keen sense of the power dynamics within the university. Women attributed the persistence of gender inequality not to biology but to a professional environment in which university administrators care more about the appearance than the reality of gender equality and a professional culture based on a traditional, linear male model. Respondents described heart-wrenching choices between career and family responsibilities, with tensions especially intractable in the bench sciences. They advocated alternative models of professional life but also offered very specific interim suggestions for institutions genuinely interested in alleviating gender inequality and discrimination.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPerspectives on Politics
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)215-233
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 06.2008