The Recognition Gap for Women in Academia

On Behalf of | February 23, 2016 | Gender Discrimination, Harassment

A lot has been written about why talented women aren’t advancing in academia the way their male colleagues are – including the heavy “baby penalty” paid by female academics.  But the gap we see in tenure rates between male and female faculty members can’t be explained by differences in family commitments or productivity alone.  New research points to another problem women face – a glaring gap in how the academic community recognizes the work of women versus men.

recent study suggests that female academics get way less credit for their academic research than their male colleagues do.  Heather Sarsons, a Ph.D. student in Harvard’s economics department, looked at how men’s and women’s academic publications are valued when economists go up for tenure at top universities.  She found that while women who write all their papers on their own have about the same chance of getting tenure as comparable men, women who publish papers jointly with other colleagues  get far less credit for their research when they’re going up for tenure than men do.  Men get just as much credit for research that they co-author as they do for papers they write themselves.  By contrast, women going up for tenure get zero credit for papers they publish with male co-authors, and women who co-author with other women still get less than half the boost to their tenure prospects that men receive for co-authored papers.  The result?  Female economists are 18% less likely on average to get tenure than male economists, even after controlling for any productivity differences.

It’s not just women’s academic research that gets overlooked.  Another study published just last month indicates that female academics also don’t get as much credit for their teaching skills as men. Researchers looked at over 23,000 student evaluations of teaching at a French university and found that male instructors received higher ratings than women – both overall and in every single discipline surveyed – even though it didn’t seem like there was any difference between men and women in their teaching effectiveness.  (Similar results were found in a much smaller sample of students in the U.S.)

These studies speak to the implicit biases that female academics face, and recognizing these kinds of implicit biases is an important first step.  But the hard work for universities will be implementing systems to correct these biases before they derail women’s careers.