Big Questions Surrounding Gender Equity Blog

The Costs to Women in Academia

people sitting at the table
by Carole L. Jurkiewicz, Ph.D.:

A large body of research concludes that women pay a high price for choosing academic careers, and that this disparity has changed little over time.  Motivated by a desire to add to knowledge and the passion to explore our intellectual interests, we share the same monetary costs as men, but research has emphasized that not only will we be vastly outnumbered in our profession, but more often than not we’ll be ostracized, dismissed, have our ideas discounted, be expected to take over group maintenance activities, receive less travel and research funding, and if we have a partner 98% of the time we’ll end that relationship by year two if that person doesn’t already hold a Ph.D.  If we have children before applying, we are likely to be rejected upon the assumption that we’re not seriously committed to the rigors of a doctoral program or academic life.

Nearing graduation, we’re less likely to receive job offers and may be invited to interview only because a faculty group finds us physically attractive, where they’ll stand in the back and comment on our features or their strategy to know us intimately before we head back home. If we are offered a job, 99% of us will receive a much lower salary/benefit package than if we were male.

As a new faculty member,there is a high likelihood that we will face demeaning insults related to gender, such as rape and groping and propositioned by other faculty and students, pressured overtly and covertly to trade sexual favors for promotion and tenure and/or threatened if we don’t oblige.  We’ll be subject to harsher assessments of our activity reports, our course evaluations will be much lower than our male counterparts as students believe we should be much more generous with our grading and more understanding of the excuses they have for not meeting class goals, as well as on how closely our appearance matches the desirable features in social media.  About 98% of our male counterparts will have fewer service responsibilities, and be invited to lunches, outings, and social activities much more than we, while we’re subject to more requests for “favors” from faculty, administration, and students. We’re less likely to have a spouse or stay-at-home partner to see to daily duties while we pursue our careers, and the men who generally will hold the senior and administrative positions in our department/college/university will view as they do their wives: reportedly subservient, obedient, and viewing our careers as pastime amusements.  

Men are more often encouraged to vie for early tenure, more likely to be given visible assignments within the university, given choice GRAs, more travel and research funds, desirable office locations and teaching times, and greater acceptance of our office hours and outside time demands.  We’re less likely to hold Chairs, Endowed Professorships, or Dean positions. We’ll be promoted at a slower rate throughout our careers and are likely to never reach pay parity with our male counterparts. Our articles as sole or female first author are less likely to be published. Few of us will be appointed journal editors or members of an editorial board, conference chairs, or book editors.;there has been only one female editor of PAR over its history and she resigned shortly into her tenure as Editor-in-Chief due to bullying and discrimination.  Fellow female editors know this all toowell. We are also more likely to leave academia and seek employment elsewhere due to the differential treatment and harassment, and are more likely to be featured on the lower tier and in the center of department photos as token evidence of diversity.

Research on these points and others have been consistent over time and geographic boundaries.  As a doctoral student and junior faculty member, I’ve witnessed firsthand the machinations behind inviting in attractive female candidates who had no chance of being hired; have suffered all the sexual assaults mentioned above many times over and told by chairs that I shouldn’t do research with male faculty or wear skirts or dresses as it invites such behavior.  Lower evaluations and student/faculty comments that I should grade easier and overlook plagiarism and aggressive acts because I’m a woman, delayed promotions, lower salaries and less discretionary funding, bias because I’m a single parent by choice, being left out of social events because of gender, subject to demeaning remarks based upon gender…I have been subject to it all.  Not having anyone as a role model or in whom I could confide, I tolerated a lot, fought back selectively and paid the costs, and have strengthened my determination to use my experiences to enable other talented and ethical women and to try to make their paths less strident and facilitate their successes when I can.  

Culture is very difficult to change in any organization, and especially so in an academy setting.  It’s exhilarating to see changes over time firsthand, which one hopes is a trend despite recent research that disagrees.  What can we do to contribute to equalization in academia, or at least not perpetuate the barriers?

For all genders and gender-identifications:

If the other bodes no ill will, be kind, share best practices you’ve experienced on dealing with the harassment, limitations, and discrimination.  Mentor other women, ensure equal social opportunities including sports.

Don’t use the phrase, “excuse my language ladies.” Don’t do or say anything to single out females or any gender-identifiers differently from males.

Don’t comment on clothing or hairstyle unless you routinely do so of everyone.

Appoint, advocate for, or facilitate females as journal editors and on editorial boards.

Stand up for untenured female faculty when you see them harassed.  Not privately after the fact but in public at the moment it occurs.  Don’t be complicit in setting a precedent for behavior that is inexcusable in any setting.

Familiarize yourself on the gender bias inherent in student evaluations and either advocate for forms that don’t disadvantage females, or follow the research and adjust female evaluations to increase by the margin of bias substantiated by the literature.

Speak up on behalf of women if some are being ignored in committees/groups, as we know usually happens; advocate for them in speaking their voice.

If a woman is ostracized for speaking out about bias or discrimination, don’t avoid them, refuse to participate in groupthink.  Talk to them, invite them to activities, don’t tolerate their disparagement, and ensure they remain part of the mainstream. Don’t say they asked for it.  It is best to assume that women are never implying an invitation to intimacies; their looking over your shoulder at the computer, inviting you to discuss research over a drink or lunch, or a pat on the back is nothing more than it would be if she were a man.

Provide equal formal and informal consideration for family leave, sick children, single parents, and health issues.

To other women:

Stop the mean girl routine, I’m sure we all know the statistics on how frequently this happens and why.  Instead, empower other female doctoral students and faculty. It’s not a zero-sum game and we can all win by teaming up, not by building barriers to protect our fiefdom as lone female among males.  Being a mean girl doesn’t identify us as remarkable, but rather shines the spotlight on our petty weaknesses and makes us a target for ridicule and derision.

Don’t refer to female faculty by their first names and men by their titles, ensure equal respect.  Don’t assume camaraderie based upon gender, but rather earn it through demonstrating the ideals by which you want to be judged. I think of classic Ms. Magazine articles like, “I Want a Wife,” and “If Men Could Menstruate.” Amplify these voices by refusing to perpetuate stereotypes.  Be a role model, speak out and pave the way for other females to address inequities.

These are just a few suggestions, and useful for all regardless of gender, but if we were to achieve even these minor inroads, we would be light-years ahead of where we’ve mired for decades.

Callie Beusman
Colleges Silence and Fire Faculty Who Speak Out About Rape
Access 21 August 2018

National Sexual Violence Resource Center 2015.; Accessed 18 August 2018

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.; Accessed 19 August 2018

Sexual Harassment In the Academy: A Crowdsource Survey. By Dr. Karen Kelsky, of The Professor Is In. Accessed 21 August 2018,

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