In my previous blog post, I discussed the pay gap as one of inequality issues between women and men that refers to the difference in wages and salaries between them. In this post I discuss women positions in higher education. White women and women of color in higher education experience discrimination across multiple dimensions, and it is well documented that academia itself is gendered (Morton, 2018). For example, according to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2020), women’s salaries are lower at all ranks and in all types of institutions. Women are also much less likely to be tenured (Morton, 2018) or promoted. Also, women are less likely to be full professors (NCES, 2020).
Although there has been a slight change in the number of women in leadership positions, still the growth towards equity is slow. It is believed that the presence of females in higher education positions can have extreme impact on the institution and the scope of knowledge.
First of all, according to NCES, women earn more degrees than men. For the year of 2016–2017, women earned more than half of bachelor’s degrees (57.3%), master’s degrees (59.4%), and doctorate degrees (53.3%). While women have earned more degrees than men, they are less likely to hold high-ranking academic positions.
According to NCES, in 2017, the 1.5 million faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, 53% were full time and 47 % were part time. Faculty include professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors, lecturers, assisting professors, adjunct professors, and interim professors. 41% were White males; 35% were White females; 6% were Asian/Pacific Islander males; 5% were Asian/Pacific Islander females; and 3% each were Black males, Black females, Hispanic males, and Hispanic females. Those who were American Indian/Alaska Native and those who were of Two or more races each made up 1% or less of full-time faculty. (see the figure below)
Also, 30% of college presidents are women while about 56.5% of college students in the U.S. are women (Samsel, 2017).
In 2018, according to Department of Education (2018), the percentage of female Full Professors represented 27% of white women, 3% Asian/Pacific Islander women, 2% black women, 1% Latinas, and less than 1% of full professors reported more than one race. Also, the percentage of female Assistant Professor represented 38% white women, 6% Asian/Pacific Islander women, 4% black women, 3% Latinas, and again, less than 1% of Assistant Professors claimed more than one race (Department of Education, 2018).
Even though, the percentages of female in different positions in 2018 has been increased, women are less than men to achieve tenure among tenured faculty at four-year institutions, women held just 22.7% non-tenure-track positions, compared to 17.3% of men faculty.
It is clear that women are more likely to be in lower-ranking academic positions especially women of color and women from different races are more underrepresented in academia. The numbers mentioned above are sufficient indicators of lack of diversity among women and men which means that white women and women of color struggle to attain the tenured and the rank of full professor. I was surprised for the low involvement of women in color in higher academic administration, despite the ever-growing number of students of color. Consequently, not considering the issue of inequality can indicate that there is less opportunity for women to pursue these positions and thus discourage them from making an impact.
I found a research article that exploring the issue indicated inequality in higher education leadership positions among different genders. The article written by Blithe and Elliott (2019). The authors aimed in their study to examine gender inequality in the academy and women experiences in workplace. This study draws on stress process theory to identify stressors and supports for academic women. Through analysis of focus group data, the results revealed that women in academia continue to experience extreme workplace hostilities micro-aggressions, work- life conflict and that these stressors vary by rank. Also, they found low levels of institutional support. So, they also discussed some strategies from the participants of successful supports that may improve equity in the higher education. The study concluded with a discussion of how higher education institutions can implement some approaches for white women and women of color by reducing existing stressors and increasing supports for them. According to Blithe and Elliott (2019), the suggested strategies include research about gender inequality, (2) mentoring, (3) communication, (4) training, (5) research support, (6) university policies, and (7) hiring.
(1) The research: some topics could be discussed in future research such as observing faculty meetings, productivity, teaching loads, research support funds, letters for annual evaluations and promotion, and teaching evaluations.
(2) mentoring: forming a ‘Women’s Faculty Network’ that can connect women to mentors.
(3) communication: if a university creates the Women’s Faculty Network, it could be included a social media and newsletter that could promote, spotlight faculty, announce awards, publications, etc.
(4) training: training programs related to Safe Zone or Ally training for LBTQI+ faculty, creating male advocates, and to learn about gendered communication.
(5) research support: such as support for conferences, especially for mothers taking children to conferences, specific grants and awards for gender research.
(6) university policies: included leaves of absence, same sex partner benefits, work-life policies (like flex time), wellness policies for disabilities, face time expectations.
(7) hiring: targeted hires of women at higher ranks.
Actually, I certainly think these strategies are very helpful. Something came to mind when I read this article related to finding balance between work and family. While there is no lack of enthusiasm and efforts from female faculty to perform in academia, some of these women may get demotivated and discouraged because of the rigorous requirements to perform especially with tenure position. Also, insufficient maternity leaves, no considerations for female employees with children, and unsupportive environments may lead them to not take up such academic positions from the start. Thus, I think providing support to a diverse workforce will ensure retention of diverse faculty members. I hope would be that higher education institutions would provide equitable resources for recruiting, hiring and retaining diverse faculty members.
Morton, S. (2018). Understanding gendered negotiations in the academic dual-career hiring process. Sociological Perspectives, 61(5), 748-765.
Blithe, S.J. & Elliott, M. (2019). Gender inequality in the academy: Micro-aggressions, work-life conflict, and academic rank. Journal of Gender Studies, 1-14.