Gender not children affect academic ranking

New research suggests it is not children, but gender that holds women academics back.

Women in the Legal Sector


Gender rather than children is what stops women rising up the academic ranks, according to a new study.

The study by researchers at Cardiff University looks at gender and academic rank at UK universities, where women are not far from reaching the 50% share of all academic and research staff, but not even close to reaching an equal share of (full) professor ranking.

Drawing on the results of a survey conducted in 2013 with 2,270 responses from academics from all fields of knowledge at the 24 Russell Group universities, the academics find that being a woman has a negative and significant association with academic rank, except for the case when parenthood is timed with career considerations in mind.

They also find that the percentage of time that academics spend on teaching and teaching-related activities has a negative and statistically significant association with academic rank. This association is more pronounced in the case of women, who spend a higher percentage of their working time on teaching and teaching-related activities than men, as do those in lower academic ranks. Since women tend to be in lower ranks, the percentage of time spent on
teaching and teaching-related activities may be considered both a cause and a result of the gender gap, says the study.

It says that the fact women have heavier teaching loads than men may be due to unconscious bias. The researchers state: “Heavier teaching loads on women could be the result of subtle, probably unintentional, discrimination, which arguably, becomes less obvious as women progress academically and the percentage of time they spend on teaching and teaching-related activities decreases more than that of their male counterparts, for each grade they progress.”

The study also finds a positive and significant association between the number of children under the age of 18 years and the academic rank of both men and women, as long as babies were timed with career considerations in mind, ie children are born after an academic has reached a certain rank. The researchers say: “A possible explanation for this is unlikely to be that children have a positive impact on academic rank, but rather that they arrived after a certain rank had been secured.”

The researchers say that many universities in the Russell Group have policies that support the family, including flexible working, generous maternity leave policies, childcare support and shared parental leave. While it says that, without these, the gender gap would probably be wider, it says they are not statistically significant in terms of women’s career progression.

Instead they recommend transparent workload models and promotion on the basis of clear and transparent criteria. They argue that universities should have systems in place to allow a fair and equitable distribution of teaching
and administrative loads amongst faculty as well as continuous monitoring of such distribution.

They propose a transparent workload model where everyone can see everybody else’s teaching loads, including number of courses taught, contact hours, number of students, marking, dissertation supervision, etc. Some British universities, including some in the Russell Group, have already adopted or are in the process of adopting workload models. Some
are university-wide workload models and others are designed within Schools or Departments.

However, how the time taken to do individual tasks are measured varies across universities. The researchers say they should be set by academics, as academics know the time it takes to prepare a lecture, mark an exam, supervise a student project, write a journal paper, prepare a research proposal, etc.

They also argue that promotion should be based on clear and transparent criteria. Currently research carries more weight.  If that is the case it should be clearly stated. If not, methods should be devised to measure teaching excellence.

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