Women in higher education: Gender inequality in academia

Although women used to be in the minority on college campuses, you’re sure to have noticed that in most schools its just the opposite now. Despite the dramatic increase in the number of women enrolled in colleges and universities around the world, there is still gross gender inequality when it comes to professional advancement of women in higher education.

MIT survey results

In 1999, MIT released a report on the status of women faculty that quantified the problem of gender inequality in academia and indicated several areas for improvement. The report was updated in 2002, and again in March 2011: A Report on the Status of Women Faculty in the Schools of Science and Engineering at MIT, 2011. The latter of these survey results showed a promising increase in the number of women professors.

To gather information, MIT brought together the experiences of women faculty members from its School of Science and its School of Engineering. Each school conducted its own study, with 92 percent of the women faculty in the School of Science participating and 87 percent of the women faculty in the School of Engineering participating. Both schools noted that the number of women faculty had almost doubled in the past 10 years.

Still room for improvement

Although the rise of female faculty is promising and participants lauded changes in salary distribution, senior administrative positions, and implementation of family policies, there are several areas that still need improvement. For instance, many participants felt that they were given too many committee assignments and that they were expected to be natural mentors by virtue of their gender. Their concerns were that the many hours of service left them little time for research.

The slow advance

Some reports also show that female faculty members don’t advance as quickly as their male counterparts. Scott Jaschik, in a post on Global Higher Ed, The Gender Gap on Service, discusses a study of 350 faculty members at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2008-2009, where researchers found that women often stall in their advancement at the associate professor level. According to this report, tenured women associate professors who served as directors of undergraduate programs took an average of five years longer to receive a promotion.

The survey also reported that both male and female associate professors worked about 64 hours a week; however, the male instructors spent more hours each week on research. On the other hand, the women instructors reported spending most of their time teaching, mentoring and providing service. The main issue here is that research is necessary for promotion. Therefore, when it comes to advancement, the men have the advantage, with more research hours to show for their time.

Hiring procedures

Another primary concern is a hiring process that appears to eliminate bias yet leads to the perception that women are given unfair advantages. Due to these perceptions, women faculty members report that they suffer from a lack of confidence, believing that the once high hiring standards have been lowered for them.

Parity is a global issue

At the college level, female students outnumber and often outperform their male counterparts; however, there is little reflection of that success when it comes to women in senior positions in the academic workforce. In another post on Global Higher Ed, Worldwide Paradox for Women; Jaschik talked about a panel at Going Global, an education conference of the British Council held in Hong Kong in March 2011, where panelists discussed the number of women in education compared to their career advancement opportunities. One presenter attributed the disparity to the fact that while educational opportunities have increased for females, there have been no changes regarding the social and family responsibilities of women.

From the conference Jaschik reports, “Charity Angya, vice chancellor of Benue State University, in Nigeria, described the dynamic in a country in which women have not yet achieved equity in enrollments. Nationally, women make up about 40 percent of enrollments, although that average masks relative equity in some disciplines and some parts of the country and severe inequality in other programs and parts of the country. She said that distance education, and part-time programs, both relatively new in Nigeria, appear to be particularly attractive to women and could play a key role in narrowing educational gaps.”

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