Big Questions Surrounding Gender Equity Blog

Striving for Success by Overcoming the Gender Gap

Today, women in the public administration discipline strive for representation in the academy alongside men, but equitable gender representation remains elusive. Women in the social sciences earn more Ph.D. degrees than men (51.4% in 2014), but fill only 41% of positions in academia (National Science Foundation, 2015). In public administration 50.7% of women were awarded Ph.D. degrees in 2014 (NSF, 2015) but only 38% of women hold academic positions (Feeney, 2015). In moving from Assistant to Full Professor, women lag behind despite their increasing presence at the rank of Assistant Professor (Hancock et al., 2013; Sabharwal, 2013). For the social sciences, NSF (2015) reports that Assistant Professors are 49.5 % women, while at the Full Professor level they represent only 26.6% of the faculty.

While women are more likely now than in the past to obtain their Ph.D. degrees in public administration and related fields, as well as securing academic positions, they somehow do not advance as quickly as their male counterparts. In spite of the fact that some extant studies address the topic of women’s representation in public administration (Hancock, Baum, & Breuning, 2013; Feeney, 2015; D’Agostino, 2016; Scutelnicu & Knepper, 2018), as indicated by D’Agostino and Elias in their blog introduction:“Big Questions Surrounding Gender Equity in Academia and the Field of Public Administration”, little has been written about explaining why women are not advancing in their academic careers as quickly as men. 

 Some progress has been made to explore the context of women’s advancement. Existing evidence suggests that underrepresentation of women authors may be explained by a working institutional climate that is not welcoming to women (Hancock et al., 2013), an inadequate work-life balance (Mason & Goulden, 2004), and the fact that women place a higher priority than do men on student advising and nurturing (Park, 1996). Why is the presence of women in academia decreasing as they move up the academic career path from Assistant to Full Professor? We will share, through this blog, our views about three explanatory key indicators that are critical for women’s success in the academy: research productivity,institutional climateand work-life balance. Our foundation for these key indicators lies in our recent research in Public Integrity, “A Tale of Two Journals: Women’s Representation in Public Administration Scholarship.” These key indicators are emerging from our research currently underway as well as from personal communications with peers in the field of public administration and our own experiences. Here, we offer some helpful tips on how women can be more successful in their academic advancement.

  • Research productivity is one of the most important factors that can contribute to the success of women’s academic advancement in public administration.  As evidenced in the literature (Scutelnicu & Knepper, 2018) women publish less than men, so finding ways to encourage and support more publishing is critical.Research productivityrefers mainly to the number of peer-reviewed publications (such as peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and books) one faculty produces and the impact of such published work. Other types of publications such as non-peer reviewed articles, book reviews, research reports and the like rarely count toward research productivity. In a recent 2018 PA Times article we presented some preliminary findings of a self-reported survey sent out to faculty affiliated with NASPAA accredited programs. We found that, overall, women publish on average at 57% of men’s publishing rates. When we examined differences between women and men by types of publications, we found that men publish almost twice as many peer-reviewed articles and books than women and slightly more book chapters. Women seem to publish slightly more non-peer reviewed articles and book reviews than men. Moreover, research reports are favored more by men than by women. Notably, women seem to be most productive at the Associate Professor level and least productive at the Assistant Professorlevel especially in terms of peer-review articles.

Why does this matter? If, typically, faculty performance and success is perceived as synonymous with productivity and evaluated through the assessment of the three academic pillars of teaching, research and service, existing research indicates that, among the three, research productivity is the one that matters the most mainly because it has the potential to lead to an increase in institutional prestige (Coggburn & Neely, 2015; Youn & Price, 2009). In the past five to ten years we have witnessed a higher education trend that places an increasing importance on research productivity for the process of tenure and promotion (Youn & Price, 2009) not only for research-intensive higher education institutions but also for those focused primarily on teaching. The public administration discipline is not exempt from this trend. Therefore, the types of publications that matter the most in the process of faculty tenure and promotion are the peer-reviewed work, precisely where women are less productive than men, at least in the early stages of their careers. 

  • Institutional climate is a comprehensive term that we equate with institutional support, work environment and expectations. Common sense incentives such as reduced teaching load, research stipends, financial support for conference travel and support for grants are all part of creating a research supportive climate. Further, having the necessary staff support to identify and apply for federal, state, local grants and foundation money is equally important. We have witnessed instances where women are expected to identify a grant, write the proposal, and compete on par with peers at institutions with knowledgeable staff support throughout the process. Further, having sponsored research staff with expertise in the social sciences, will increase the capacity of institutions to support public administration researchers. 
  • Work-life balance is another key indicator of women’s success and advancement in the academy. Our preliminary research suggests that women who have supportive partners tend to become successful academics and those who have young children tend to be less successful, especially during tenure-track years. We consider tenure clock stoppage as an indicator of academic success that all academic women should take advantage of.  In a 2016 New York Times article Wolfers mentions that male faculty actually take advantage of this policy and it works in their favor more often than it works for female faculty. While it seems common sense for every university to offer such a benefit to its employees, in reality not all institutions provide such support. Our workplace is an example that instituted such support in the last 5 to 10 years. Working in a male dominated environment may prove to be hostile for women, especially to those who have recently welcomed children or who are caring for aging or disabled relatives.  

So, how can women narrow the research productivity gap? We’ve identified some useful tips:

  • Attend more conference presentations and seek out feedback to best prepare our manuscripts for the peer-review process. 
  • Co-present and co-author with graduate students by serving on dissertation committees and masters’ theses. This is an especially important research mentoring part for the next generation.
  • Stay focused on “what matters”in terms of being successful in academia (e.g. research productivity) by dedicating more time to conducting and publishing peer-reviewed research. 
  • Embrace constructive criticism and build a thick skin for non-constructive criticism. We believe women tend to struggle more than men with accepting constructive criticism, an important part of the peer-review process. Women often won’t send manuscripts for review unless they consider them fully polished.
  • Women must be sure to cite other women’s work. This builds our citation counts and visibility.  
  • Find alternative and creative ways to show the impact of one’s scholarship work. Before Google Scholar,, Research Gate and the like, measuring the impact of academic work was limited to certain journals that were listed in the Science Citation Index (SCI) database. However, today, women can identify other women’s work, cite it in their research and use it in the classes they teach by using Google Scholar, Mendeley and other academic social networks such as, Research Gate etc. All these digital tools have served to equalize access to faculty research even in the working stages. Through these networks we believe the impact of women’s academic work has become more recognized, and can continue to become even more so than it has ever been.
  • Learn to say “no”. Historically, being in a tenure-track position gives you little leverage to refuse new tasks and projects that you are asked to do and women seem to have a harder time at negotiating these workloads. It is perfectly acceptable to politely say no. Institutions must create safe ways to enable academics to decline non-research based additional work activities – perhaps accepting new tasks by letting go of others.·     
  • Find mentors, build formal mentoring programs, and become better mentors. Mentoring should be institutionalized with both formal and informal mentoring taking place from day one. Notably, those universities that provide formal mentoring programs that align with NSF’s Advance grant have seen women successfully mentored, resulting in funded research. We anticipate that women junior faculty who land in institutions with a history of strong mentoring through  research collaboration with senior faculty members are well positioned to not only succeed in their own research but are then better positioned to mentor junior faculty down the road. 

We love and embrace the new wave of research in the area of gender representation in public administration and we think it is timely. While public administration academe has seen greater equity in terms of gender representation lately, it remains critically lacking in terms of other types of diversity such as race, ethnicity etc. Much work remains to be done. 

Gina Scutelnicu, Assistant Professor
Hillary J. Knepper, Chair and Associate Professor
Rebecca Tekula, Assistant Professor
Pace University, Department of Public Administration

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