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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Gender inequality

Fran Amery, Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Bath and Co-Convenor of the PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group

Yesterday’s post (part one of two) began to cover the tensions facing women in academia and the programs in place to promote women in STEM career fields. Amery continues her thoughts below: 

Further to this, academic roles are often gendered. First of all, women are more likely to be employed on part-time and temporary contracts, with the accompanying lack of stability and difficulty of career progression. But academic roles are also gendered in that women are more likely to be assigned stereotypically ‘feminine’ roles. Women are more likely to work in teaching-only positions, or to have a higher teaching load. Additionally, women may be more likely to find themselves engaged in ‘institutional housekeeping’ such as committee work and preparation of reports, alongside the emotional work of pastoral and care roles. These roles are generally institutionally devalued, and unlike research, unlikely to be rewarded with promotion.

Another problem relates to professional networking. Research shows that women have difficulty gaining access to ‘male’ academic networks. This can be due to time constraints – those with childcare responsibilities may not be able to participate in out-of-hours socialising – but in addition women may simply not be invited into these networks. This process can start as early as during doctoral research: women PhD students are less likely to form the same bonds with their male supervisors as men. The effect of this is that women are less likely to be invited to collaborate, less likely to be encouraged to apply for jobs or promotions, and excluded from informal decision-making.

Finally, there is the matter of discrimination. Sexism remains a problem even in ‘enlightened’ academia, and discrimination against BME and working-class women is even more intense. Heather Savigny’s interviews with women academics highlight the cultural sexism women face, from sexualisation to the assumption that ‘women aren’t good at research’. What is most concerning about her findings is the number of women who feared repercussions if they were identified.

While efforts to encourage women and girls into STEM are helpful, they do not tackle many of the underlying problems. These are problems which go beyond raw numbers, and indeed may be concealed when it is assumed that increasing rates of participation lead to lower levels of inequality overall.

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