Do you find yourself gossiping about a peer?
Is she a woman?
Would you say the same things about a male peer?
Gender bias is persistent on both sides of the gender aisle.
Equal pay in corporate life makes the headlines regularly, but the story is a little different in academia. With women making up the majority of doctoral and masters degree students since 2012 , we're seeing a shift with more and more women in higher teaching positions. Broadly, this reflects the relatively higher prevalence of women in graduate school compared to men.
I can't speak personally to the nature of "academic sisterhood" at the tenure-track level but I can talk to you about the sisterhood among myself and other women at the student level. And I can provide you with supporting evidence that help to paint the picture of this subconscious bias surrounding us.
One article points out "that student evaluations are systematically biased against women — so much so, in fact, that they're better mirrors of gender bias than of what they are supposed to be measuring: teaching quality." (2,3) The new study published by Ottoboni and Stark (the latter who has a keen interested in course evaluations over all) examined French and American cohorts looking at section leaders (male versus female) and final exam grades. A study in 2014 utilized a randomized control blinded experiment with online courses, where the students were told their instructor was male or female (true or not) and examined student evaluations of teaching (4). Measures of undisputed fact - such as prompt return of assignments - were still ranked lower for the perceived female instructor, and (ironically?) female students were harsher in evaluations of perceived female instructors than male students. (5)
In deciding to pursue a Ph.D. and where, I met with several of my female professors to discuss what professorship is like at their institution, and life in academia in general. Work life balance takes on a new sheen when maternity leave and societal barriers come into play. Through all my meetings, one comment stands out. One of my female professors said, "Students comment on my hair and dress, or my voice in lecture. But they never submit such comments of my fellow [male] professor".
This topic can branch any number of ways. I chose to discuss disparities in course evaluations. But, as evidenced by the most recent presidential election, and the current state of tension in the U.S. and world surrounding He Who Must Not Be Named, I posit several action items to build up the women (womxn) around you.
(see How Women on Obama's Staff Made Sure Their Voices were Heard (Jenavieve Hatch, Huffington Post))
To battle manterrupting and bropriation in meetings, women staff amplified one another's ideas by repeating them, and crediting the contributor. Women in meetings face a number of challenges in addition to these, such as being asked to take notes. How do you say no to that?
A key way to foster community and garner support is to add value.
Give a sincere compliment. "You presented really great ideas in the morning meeting today. Your communication style is so clear and direct." "I admire your ability to prioritize tasks and manage projects so effectively. I enjoy working on teams with you." These compliments will open up a dialogue. Their sincerity will likely catch the recipient off-guard and soften even the iciest exteriors.
If you came across an opportunity, an event, a project, that made you think of someone you work with, share that! "Hey, this made me think of you because [explanation]. Cheers!"
Make small talk. No, not that kind of small talk. Catch someone after a meeting, compliment them, and segue into less formal talk. This method is a great way to make friends out of colleagues.
What steps will you take?
All references to "women" and "men" are meant to include all persons who self-identify as one or the other, regardless of biological sex.
: Council of Graduate Studies. Annual Graduate and Degree Report: 2002-2012.
: Kamenetz A. Why Female Professors Get Lower Ratings. NPR. January 25 2016.
: Ottoboni K, Boring A, and Stark P. Student evaluations of teaching (mostly) do not measure teaching effectiveness. ScienceOpen Research. 2016.
: MacNell L, Driscol A, and Hunt AN. What's in a name: Exposing gender bias in student ratings of teaching. Innovative Higher Education. 2015:40(4):291-303.
: Mulhere K. Students praise male professors. Inside Higher Ed. December 10 2014.
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