Gender, not children, ‘holding back’ female academics

11 Jul 2019 By Maggie Baska

Bias may be a bigger factor than parenthood in career progression, says study

Gender, rather than being a parent, is what stops women from rising through the ranks in academia, according to a recent study by Cardiff University. Even after parenthood was accounted for, the research indicated women did not get promoted as fast as male counterparts with the same professional credentials and personal circumstances. 

The study surveyed 2,270 academics across the 24 Russell Group universities. They were asked about their academic credentials, research productivity, working duties, sociodemographic characteristics and family.

The research found that a man working in the same academic field as a woman, with similar credentials and family life, is more likely to have a higher academic rank. And Dr Georgina Santos, senior lecturer at Cardiff University’s School of Geography and Planning, said the message from the research was clear: “Women are less likely to hold senior academic posts, even when they have comparable experience to their male counterparts.”

She added that although “blatant open discrimination” in academia was rare, there may be forms of unconscious bias that impact the likelihood of women becoming senior leaders.

The study indicated the amount of time spent on teaching activities can also negatively influence career progression. 

This is more detrimental to women who spend a higher amount of their working time teaching. 

The research concluded that, because more women tend to be in less senior positions at universities, the percentage of time spent on teaching may be both a cause and result of the gender gap. 

Santos acknowledged universities already offer career guidance for academics, with some offering workshops focusing solely on women. 

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